Part of the responsibility of being a gun owner is knowing when and how to use your gun in self-defense. Let’s hope this never happens. Just in case of a very unfortunate series of events you have to take another human life, it is wise to have a plan how to handle it.
I am not a lawyer, a law enforcement officer, nor have I had to use any of my guns in self-defense, however I have studied self-defense experts’ reports on the subject and interviewed retired police officers, lawyers and people who had to use their gun for advice and suggestions on what to do after a self-defense shooting. Before making any final decisions, it is important to note that you should have a plan in place and develop a relationship with a lawyer before you ever have to use your gun.
First, know exactly when you can legally use deadly force. Every state has a law stating that you may defend yourself, however all states’ laws are different. Please check with your state to see if you have a duty to retreat and when it is legal to use lethal force. To read more about when it is okay to use deadly force, read my blog, When can you use deadly force. In general, to use deadly force in a defensive situation, you must be justified, deadly force must be necessary and reasonable, and above all your life must be in imminent danger of death or injury.
The first thing you must do is call 911 and report the incident. The first word of advice from everyone I have asked, even from a retired police officer, is do not say any more than what is necessary. 911 operators record all calls and the prosecutors will use what you say as evidence in court. For example, when you talk to the operator, give them your name, location, phone number and a description of yourself. You can say, “My life was in danger and I had to shoot them.” Tell the 911 operator that you have a gun. The 911 operator will dispatch law enforcement and will most likely keep you on the phone. It is smart to request an ambulance from the 911 operator.
After calling 911, call your attorney and tell them what happened.
Before law enforcement shows up, put your gun down. When the cops arrive, they have no idea what happened or who the bad guy is. They will be on the defensive. Have your hands where the police can see them and your gun holstered or put down out of your reach.
Do not ever disturb the crime scene. Even though you are the innocent in the situation, you are still standing in the middle of a crime scene. Do not touch the body, broken glass, bullets, or spent shell casings.
Do as the cops say without argument. It is their job to find out what happened, who the bad guy is, and to stop any crime that is being committed. They might have you put your hands behind your head, kneel down, or even lie down on the floor. If they handcuff you, do not resist. It will also be possible that they want to take you in for questioning. One lawyer I interviewed said, “It is the police securing the scene of a homicide, and it will be up to your lawyer later to put the ‘justifiable’ in front of that ‘homicide.’ Every word you say arguing with the cops about how they are treating you will be recorded and played back later.” So follow their instructions without arguing.
Your interaction with the law enforcement on the scene should be much like it was with the 911 operator. State just the facts, “That man lying on the floor broke into my home. He rushed at me. My life was in danger; I shot my firearm at him.” Do not tell the police anymore than this. Your opinions and longer story is for your attorney at this point. You do have the right to be silent and you do have the right to an attorney.
Firearms trainer and self-defense expert, Massad Ayoob suggests:
- Let the officer know the perp threatened your life
- You will sign a complaint
- Point out witnesses and evidence
- Demand an attorney. Mr. Ayoob says, “Officer, you will have my full cooperation in 24 hours after I’ve spoken to counsel.”
Mr. Ayoob’s suggestions are excellent ones, but a retired police officer told me that it will be their job to gather the evidence and let it speak for itself.
Be considerate and respectful of the police that show up, they are just doing their job. Insist that you have a lawyer before saying anything further. This should stop law enforcement from asking any more questions. They are trained to try to get someone to confess and will ask you many questions.
After such a stressful event, your memory can fail you. Further, because of the adrenaline, you might feel very chatty. Try to resist telling the police any more than just the facts. Studies have shown that police officers who have had to use their weapon have confused facts and cannot remember the exact series of events. This can get you into trouble. In fact, some have actually made up events that never happened during a self-defense shooting. That is why it is important to get a lawyer right away. The retired police officer I interviewed said, “One night in jail while they sort things out is better than years because you said the wrong thing.”
Remember, it is the cops’ job to get a guilty person to fess up. Seeing a dead person on the floor and you with a gun might mean they automatically suspect you are the bad guy. They have no idea what happened. Do not be overconfident in your innocence. Dr. Saul Kassin who is a Psychology professor at Williams College says most people who are innocent, believe that everyone else knows they are too, but this is not true. Do not have a false sense of security in your innocence. I know this may not sound promising, but after all is said and done, and the investigation proves your life was in imminent danger, your innocence will be affirmed.
The law enforcement officers who arrive on the scene may decide to arrest you. Be prepared for them to confiscate your gun, regardless if they arrest you or not. You will be able to get it back after the investigation is finished; however, it may take years to get it back. Your home defense gun should not be the family heirloom. Invest in a gun you don’t mind missing for years. If you are arrested, you will be handcuffed and searched. The cops will take you “downtown” and book you. This means getting photographed and fingerprinted. Then you will most likely be placed in a cell to wait for them to post bail. Sometimes, depending on your city, posting bail can take just a few hours or overnight. In fact, Texas Law Shield, LLP says that the police can hold you up to 48 hours without even bringing a charge against you.
Once the ordeal is over, the media may hound you. There will be people in your community who believe you did the wrong thing and that you committed murder. Take the advice from your attorney whether or not you should speak to the media and what you should say if you choose to do so.
You may feel isolated, depressed, or guilty afterwards. It is completely normal to feel all of those emotions. Seek counseling if you need to. Taking another human life, even in self-defense, will cause a wide-range of emotions that no one can prepare you for.
Two organizations, The Armed Citizen’s Legal Defense Network and Texas Law Shield, help prepare you before it happens. Kind of like having insurance if you ever have to defend yourself. You may join either for membership fees. The Armed Citizen’s Legal Defense Network offers education, access to an attorney, and a deposit for your attorney if you ever need them. Texas Law Shield provides 24-hour access to an attorney, a relationship with an attorney before a self-defense situation occurs, legal representation, all attorney fees both criminal and civil law suits, education, updates, and support.
Of course nothing can prepare you 100 percent if it happens, but it is best to be as knowledgeable as possible what will happen.
To read more about defending yourself, these blogs provide further information: