Personal Defense And The Law

Knowledge of self-defense involves more than knowing how to draw your firearm or marksmanship.

posted on November 30, 2023
handgun on law book

Not long ago, I heard about an incident I want to bring to your attention. A motorist, traveling outside his state of residence, was the victim of a minor traffic accident. However, during the investigation, an officer found two handguns in his car. The motorist was arrested for carrying without a permit, a felony in that particular state.

The problem was that the motorist had a concealed-carry permit alright—but only in his home state. This man was not a criminal. He had no prior-arrest record. He simply was in a state that refused to recognize another state’s license. What that oversight meant for this gentleman was a trip to jail, very expensive legal fees and possible time in prison—and loss of his Second Amendment rights.

We spend a lot of time talking about guns and gear and even some time talking about tactics. But, I’m not sure we spend enough time discussing the various laws concerning personal defense. It is possible to be otherwise justified in defending oneself, yet still be charged with a crime for some violation of legal procedure.

For example, some states have the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law. That is, if you have a legal right to be where you are, then there is no requirement to retreat before defending yourself. Other states require you to attempt to retreat, sometimes with an exception when you’re in your home, before responding to a violent attack. What do they consider a legitimate attempt to retreat?

While you may know the law in your home state, you are bound by the law, whatever it is, in the state that you are visiting. And, trust me, they are not going to be the least bit interested in how you do it back home.

One further example of interstate confusion: One state I know of allows a person to carry a handgun in their car if it is concealed, regardless of whether or not the person has a CCW permit. A neighboring state also allows a person to carry a handgun in their car without a permit, but only if it is in plain view. Neither state is right nor wrong; they are just different, and that difference can land a person in jail.

Gun store bull sessions have about got everyone convinced that when they use deadly force, they should just tell investigators that they were in fear for their life or serious bodily harm. But, you might be aware that this is not the “Get Out of Jail Free” card it is often implied.

Most states, maybe all of them, apply the test of “reasonableness” to the situation. Were the actions of the attacker such that the use of deadly force was reasonable and necessary? Was the response of the victim reasonable under those circumstances? And then, one might still be in trouble because he forgot to try to retreat first.

Clearly, it is critically important for the armed citizen to know and understand the laws about carrying firearms and the use of deadly force. One needs to not only understand the law, but one should also understand how it is applied based upon court rulings. Again, what is a reasonable attempt to retreat?

What one really wants to avoid is getting their lessons in the law from the guys down at the local gun shop, or even from an old ex-sheriff turned gunwriter. Instead, you go to the source and invite someone from your local DA’s office to come to your gun-club meeting and explain the law and how it is interpreted. Failing that, have a local attorney versed in the Second Amendment talk to your group.

When traveling with firearms, it is a good idea to research the gun laws in the states that you will be visiting and those that you will be traveling through. Most of these laws can be found on the internet (visit the NRA-ILA website first) and, even though you may not get a full understanding, you will at least have a general idea. Also, some items that are perfectly legal in your state may be prohibited in others, and that includes magazines and ammo.

If you are beginning to feel confused, you are on the right track. Yet, you are required to abide by the law in whichever jurisdiction you might be. “I didn’t know the law” or “I didn’t understand the law” is probably not going to be considered a good defense. And even though you may feel that you are right—and may be right from a constitutional perspective—you can be faced with a trip to jail, confiscation of your property and the expense of tens of thousands of dollars. And that is if you beat the charge. If you don’t, you get prison time on top of all that other stuff.

Educate yourself. Get good legal advice and understand that this is way better than thinking you can talk your way out of the problem. Knowing and understanding the law is just as important as knowing how to defend yourself.


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