Disparity of Force

Lethal force comes in all shapes and sizes.

posted on May 22, 2024
Sheriff Jim Wilson

One of the terms that many armed citizens are not aware of is “disparity of force.” Now, let me be clear, I am not an attorney and cannot give you legal advice. What I can do is make you aware of the term and encourage you to do some research.

Disparity of force is when your attacker, though unarmed, is still capable of causing death or serious bodily injury, thus justifying a deadly force response. This may take many forms and almost certainly will vary from situation to situation. Here are some examples that might apply.

A young woman (110 pounds) was attacked in her parking lot by a man who weighed well over 200 pounds. Her attacker was telling her, graphically, what he was going to do to her as he grabbed her. When the woman resisted, the man struck her one blow to the face which busted two of her front teeth. As she hit the ground, she grabbed her .38 snub-nosed revolver from her purse and fired, stopping the attack.

In another case, a male attacker broke into the home of an 80-year old man who suffered from a serious case of arthritis. The much younger attacker demanded money and said he would kill the victim if he did not comply. The victim fled to a bedroom, followed by his attacker, and armed himself with a shotgun. One load of buckshot stopped the attack. The home invader was not armed.

The disparity of force defense might also apply if a person is attacked by several street punks who threaten physical violence because it would be unreasonable to expect one person to engage in a fist fight with several people at once. And it would almost certainly apply if the victim had physical disabilities that prevent him or her from effectively defending themselves.

On one case that I am aware of a deputy sheriff responded to a domestic quarrel. His attacker, much larger than the deputy, attacked with a jump kick that shattered both bones in the deputy’s lower right leg. From the ground, the deputy drew his gun and told the attacker to back off. The attacker grinned and raised his boot to stomp the deputy. He was killed with one shot and a grand jury ruled that the shooting was justified.

All of these cases provide examples where a jury, judge, or prosecutor could conclude that the armed defender had a reasonable belief that they would face death or great bodily harm if they didn’t act. It’s important to remember that, as with other cases of self-defense, disparity of force will be examined to determine if the victim’s fears were justified and his or her response reasonable under the circumstances. So, it is important for the responsibly armed citizen to research disparity of force and understand it. It is also important to seek the advice of an experienced attorney licensed to practice in your state to completely understand the term and how it is applied in the local courts. Disparity of force – do your research.


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