Concealed Carry

Armed Self-Defense: The Personal and Legal Risks

man reviewing the Ruger revolver before shooting at the range

A mule is an animal with long funny ears who kicks up at anything he hears. Do you want to be a mule? My 1947 Bing Crosby jukebox seems to love this tune. As a child, dad sang this song to me, and I took it to heart — not always, but enough to not be a mule and get an education.

I don’t argue with anything regarding freedom and rights. I am all for freedom, gun ownership, and especially, self-protection. After all, the Second Amendment isn’t all about bird hunting. It is about defending yourself.

students firing at the gun range
These students at the SIG academy are getting the most of their training.

My hard-won experience tells me you must get training. Your training should not just include a focus on handling firearms safely and effectively but also when to shoot. There is a lot more to the legal landscape.

I hope the reader will never make the grievous errors I will enumerate here. Perhaps the individuals involved now wish they had had a little more training. In some cases, they paid with their life. In others, legal fees, and payouts — not to mention incarceration — bankrupted their family. It does happen, just watch the news.

Sadly, I don’t have to reach far to find examples for my work on a weekly basis. Many of you are successful at your profession or avocation. Why do things half assed? Apply that same discipline to your self-defense training.

My personal theology is to work hard in personal defense training. You can rest when you are dead. I have spent a disproportionate amount of my life dealing with criminals. Today, I prefer to rock climb for excitement.

My degree is in Criminal Justice while my minor course of study was psychology. I added a great deal of Criminal Justice experience and much study to psychology over the years. The ‘bad guys’ are not good guys like us having a bad day. Not unless you are lucky.

man instructing a woman in the proper way to clear a room with a gun and combat light
Training is a far better strategy than buying a gun and hoping you will never need it.

Understanding Your Adversary

The dangerous ones, the ones we train to face, are formidable. They lack a logical motive pattern. They attack like human terriers. The largely mythical, weak, doper isn’t the one to worry about. A history fraught with senseless violence proves out my statement.

I have made a study of the end points of extreme behavior. I haven’t found the extreme yet. The extremes of human depravity and stupidity are not yet well defined. Clear avenues of defense and good tactics are well established. Unfortunately, the good guys do stupid things. The result is sometimes tragic or heartbreaking.

Many assailants have a low range of behavioral repertoire. It is all or nothing. In many cases they are delusional and warped. You find this among child abusers and especially domestic abusers. They aren’t just mean people; it goes beyond that.

A shotgun and lever-action rifle on a welcome mat
Stand your ground is a great body of law, but often misunderstood.

Some have no connection to other members of humanity, some by choice, others by dint of scrambled wiring. Some criminals are quite intelligent. Those are the ones the Feds deal with. The ones who break into an occupied home and assault other people take stupid pills every morning.

The Types of Criminals

At this point let’s contrast the types of violent criminals. My own early research internship and visits to facilities were interesting — I never could have dreamt what I saw. In prison, the inmates look relatively normal, like many of us on the street. Some are obese, others are bulked out or thin, some were smart, and others… let’s just say ‘not so smart.’ They are a slice of humanity.

Attacker grabbing young boy
You witness a kidnapping in the local park. Is it ok to use deadly force?

Some have had bad breaks, bad families, some were too arrogant to work for a living. The percentage of psychopaths in prison is many times that of the average population. If you have called someone a ‘psycho,’ you were probably wrong as they are rare. But not so rare among the dangerous sect of humans.

By contrast, in the mental facility most have deteriorated to the point their bodies have sunken and wasted away. They shuffle about the halls aimlessly. While aided by drugs, the population is quite frightening to all but the most dedicated caseworker. I found different goals and went the criminal justice path instead.

By the way, the myth of hardened felons trying to get off with an insanity plea just doesn’t really happen. It is a desperate move by an inexperienced legal team. Dangerous felons who played that card and were sent to a mental facility for evaluation begged to be returned to prison (according to a longtime psychiatric nurse). Not a lot of common ground between the merely mean and truly deranged, I suppose.

So, it is a toss up which one you will deal with. A professional robbery gang, a tough old head just out of prison, or a psychopath. One is motivated by profit. Another by a mix of emotions including self-loathing. Yet others, are motivated by a desire to cause human misery and suffering. You must understand the threat to deal with it.

It’s Your Life

We all have circumstances, obligations, deadlines, and life just piling up. Time and money don’t seem to come together in the desirable equation. But the accrual of knowledge is never without cost. Personal defense skills are vital. An investment in legal study is wise. I don’t believe any single class prepares you adequately.

man practicing firing a pistol from behind a barricade as cover
Firing from cover is a skill that is not stressed enough.

Think. Read. Get your money’s worth in knitted brows of discussion among the learned. There is seldom a legal requirement for such training, but morally and ethically there is. There are worse things than getting shot, and shooting the wrong person is one of these.

I am not naive enough to think you will find the find the study as fascinating as I have, but you should learn enough. Learn to think ahead. Panic is among the most disruptive of reactions.

Train, Train, Train

Some training is fun if you like to shoot. Just the same, the dry, durable, and traditional training is best for mastering the handgun. Apply input to the pistol, control the trigger and sights, and practice often. This is the key and always has been. Skills are perishable.

man approaching the target with his pistol at the low ready
There is a proper way to handle a pistol and a wrong way. This shooter has it down pat.

There is no shortcut. Don’t limit training to the handgun. True, it is the firearm we rely on most, but the open hand and walking stick may be lifesavers. Why not combine training and education when you can?

Before I had a few years on the streets and became a hardened copper who was unmoved by events, I shed a few tears over the human situation. Today, I have softened again. I now realize the eternal damage done by crime and assaults. I am not being condescending but concerned. Don’t take unschooled advice. Take the recommendations up the logic ladder and see how many rungs you make it before the supposition falls apart.

Muscle and brawn are not everything. Be all you can be but also understand events and the adversary. Don’t shadow box with yourself, train with someone in a different discipline. And remember, traits we try to work out such as panic and cowardice are common among the criminal element and make them dangerous.

Woman at the range shooting a semi-automatic handgun with a two-handed grip
Range work is worth more than conversation.

History Is Proof

The following are incidents you should study and at all costs avoid repeating. These examples are food for thought and a stern warning to avoid making similar mistakes.

Police respond to an apartment complex where shots were fired. The fellow found with a bullet wound to the leg says that he dreamed he was being burglarized and shot himself in the leg. Well, not sure I buy that one. However, it was certainly poor gun handling.

In Florida, in a well televised incident a pool boy (who had a regular schedule) arrived later than usual and was cleaning the pool. The homeowner spotted something outside the home panicked and fired 30 rounds through his plate glass window. The pool boy fled and wasn’t seriously injured.

man reviewing the Ruger revolver before shooting at the range
Be certain to be completely familiar with the operation of every firearm you deploy.

First and foremost, thank God this homeowner could not shoot accurately. He probably did thousands of dollars of damage to his own home though. Second, this isn’t what Stand Your Ground is about, although that was the Sheriff’s reason for not charging the homeowner.

Stand your ground means you have no duty to retreat if attacked — not a right to wantonly fire at innocent people. Easily one of the most reckless examples of disregard for life I have examined. Obviously, the threat was no threat and was not identified.

In South Carolina, a Fire Chief observed two young men turning around in his yard. They left. He and his son pursued them, forced them off the road, and held them at gunpoint. The 9-1-1 tape isn’t in his favor as he was told several times to put the gun down. It seems the other side of the incident also called 9-1-1 begging for help.

The fire chief claims he thought the young men were burglars. However, even if they were, he would still have had no right to detain them as he did. No charges were filed against either side. As it sits the Chief is bearing the cost of the lawsuit and I don’t think it will be cheap.

wonam using a car for cover as she aims a pistol in a self-defense encounter
The author’s wife with a 1911 Commander .45 defending the Corvette from a carjacking. Lots of skill behind every part of the equation.

The murder of Kaylin Gillis was senseless. She was in a vehicle with other young people. As the vehicle turned around — they were lost — the homeowner (Kevin Monahan) fired two shots from a rifle and killed Gillis. There was no interaction between parties; no one exited the car. I am not certain this is a mistake to learn by as the police and prosecutors stated the man is well known for a confrontational and compulsive temperament. Perhaps he was a murder waiting to happen.

His attorney asked for bond which was denied. He stated that there were multiple vehicles revving their engines and coming up the driveway at a high rate of speed. Counselor, I wasn’t aware this was a justification into firing into a vehicle. He stated his client was remorseful. Perhaps this is true. Don’t find yourself in such a situation. Panic, and misplaced aggression is a terrible thing and become fatal when lives are at stake.

Legal Issues

Legal issues are terribly important. There are no good prisons. It is for good reason that cops have exclaimed, “You would have to kill me first. I ain’t going to prison!” Obviously, many former cops now reside in facilities. Just the same, prisons are a terrible place. I have seen men and women raised up from addiction and prison and become great people. However, it is a hell of a way to do it. You certainly don’t want to end up incarcerated.

Deadly Force book cover by Massad Ayoob
This author has a singularly respectable combination of experience and education.

Of course, sometimes you meet violent attack. Not being able to shoot well is a reason you may die. In one case that I found especially heartbreaking, a woman was assaulted in her home. She managed to break away and grab a five-shot snub nose .38. While we may say she should have held the gun in close and waited for the attacker to close distance, she fired quickly and wildly. She did not strike the adversary while emptying the gun and was killed.

In an incident that has a bizarre humor, a man in construction who carried cash often (a few hundred dollars) was the victim of a stick up as he arrived home in his driveway. The victim drew a snub nose .38 from his waistband and cut down on the armed assailant. He missed with all five shots. The assailant did not return fire but fled.

I suppose this is a success story of armed defense, but the assailant could easily have returned fire and killed the victim. Especially after the victim’s handgun ran dry. To add insult to injury, the defender’s shots hit his metal garage door. None were within a foot of the other. At a range of less than 10 feet, this is very poor shooting. While somewhat beside the point, the damage to the home and repair bill was more than the amount of cash in the victim’s wallet.

man reviewing the Ruger revolver before shooting at the range
Be certain to be completely familiar with the operation of every firearm you deploy.

Get training! Some excel at legal issues and other instructors are very good shooters. Canvass the reports on the teacher’s class. If you have the time and money to attend a legacy class by Massad Ayoob do so. Few could be better. Most importantly, study and think ahead.

What is the best training tip or class you have received/attended? Share it in the Comment section.

  • Chiappa revolver with an Inforce light attached to the bottom rail
  • man approaching the target with his pistol at the low ready
  • A shotgun and lever-action rifle on a welcome mat
  • Deadly Force book cover by Massad Ayoob
  • man instructing a woman in the proper way to clear a room with a gun and combat light
  • wonam using a car for cover as she aims a pistol in a self-defense encounter
  • man practicing firing a pistol from behind a barricade as cover
  • Woman at the range shooting a semi-automatic handgun with a two-handed grip
  • man reviewing the Ruger revolver before shooting at the range
  • students firing at the gun range

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (12)

  1. The Founders gave us no rights.

    What they gave us was a foundational plan to protect (secure) pre-existing natural rights.

  2. The best course I have taken,(on several occasions) was a Critical Defense Course. It consisted of identifying threats, movement, reloading, and using cover. It has prepared me for using my handgun in a variety of defensive situations.
    Also, these classes are way more fun than shooting at static paper targets!!

  3. I have trained with Massad Ayoob, the NRA, the Rio Hondo police academy, and at my community college. I have had the privilege of training with some of the best

  4. One should always make sure of the target and threat. If the house is locked and the idiot kicks the door in, it is not a drunk or injured neighbor or a family member coming home late. Who ever kicks the door in, that will be the last door kicked in and in this case, a 12 gauge shotgun with bird shot will do the trick. Think before commenting about this. When a cop tells you that this is what should happen, do it!! As for anything else, know your target and where you are going to hit him/her!! Remember, you can be sued for injuring a person and you make sure you are not the person causing the problem. Witnesses help a lot!!

  5. Thomas

    We shoot to stop not to kill. Although it must not matter morally or legally if the assailant dies as a result of being stopped. As for inside the house- be good to identify the threat and be certain it isnt an injured neighbor, local drunk, or family member coming home late or tipsy. IT should be a true burglary not a mistake. Shooting the wrong person is worse than getting shot yourself in my opinion.

  6. Needing t know when to shoot and why is the biggest problem facing gun owners. And since our government wants to re-write the constitution in their image, we have to make the right decision. If it be a road rage and the other driver is the ragger and comes at you, show your weapon but keep your finger off the trigger. If he/she goes for something in their pocket aim for that hand and fire only if they come out with a gun. At least you will only hit the hand and it will be enough to fix the problem. As to someone breaking into your home, shoot to kill!! You do not know what they have and how many there are but according to the local sheriff, make sure they fall in the house and be on 911 immediately. I was told, they do not need to be armed anymore because of the drugs they are one but they are there to steal and do what ever to do that.

  7. Craig

    Every incident is different.

    First, get out of there is best.

    Second you have pulled a gun first- all you have is a verbal threat.
    Should have other options.
    The gun isnt an answer to verbal threats.
    Something in his coat may be a cell phone.
    Think this through. The gun is a last resort not a first resort.

  8. Guy in roadrage incident jumps out of his car cursing & is walking towards you at close distance. I pull my gun & say, you might want to get back in your car, he stops & starts reaching for something in his jacket….do you shoot?

  9. Training with qualified teachers.
    Practice and muscle memory, proper mental attitude.
    Whether it be a fist fight, gunfight or a simple discussion on what is right or wrong.
    Pray, train, teach and hold to your personal ethics on what is honorable and fully justified by the circumstances.

    Mike in Texas

  10. Training with qualified teachers.
    Practice and muscle memory, proper mental attitude.
    Whether it be a fist fight, gunfight or a simple discussion on what is right or wrong.
    Pray, train, teach and hold to your personal ethics on what is honorable and fully justified by the circumstances.

    Mike in Texas

  11. I have always been amazed at how people spend much more study and time purchasing a pair of walking or running shoes than they do in purchasing their handgun.You can sit at the gun counter and be amazed how people try on guns.Simply holding one ,often for the first time and ascertain in a minutes long decision to purchase their gun.I have taken so many first time buyers out to” try on” a handgun before their purchase and it has paid off. The accompanying mental considerations regarding deadly force were also offered. As a Deputy Sheriff for 36 years I saw many a gun counter salesman sell a woman a high caliber, semi automatic handgun as her first firearm. It’s a most wonderful, essential, and complex right our Founders gave us.

  12. TV and movies haven’t helped making it appear that anyone can pick up a gun and shoot it accurately. Remember Death Wish 3 the detective running down the road shooting bad guys of the roof of 4 story apartment with a snub nose revolver. A couple of Massad Ayoub’s books recount the details of people that did not know when to shoot and ended up in jail or involved in a law suit. Well worth the read.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.