There’s one term that comes up over and over again when we run into case examples of concealed carriers responding to a violent threat: justification of the use of deadly force. A gun is immediately deadly force. As concealed carriers, we’re just Plain Jane or Joe citizens. We’re not sworn officers of the law and it’s not our job to involve ourselves in crime fighting. In some states, like Massachusetts, you can get in legal hot water for inserting yourself and your concealed carry handgun into a fight. In other states, like Arizona, you’re legally allowed to use deadly force to stop someone from committing a violent felony.
So, where do we draw the line?
Are concealed carriers de facto crime fighters?
Well, that’s a shady yes and no. By default, if you’re defending your life from a violent attempt on yourself, your family, or your property, you are responding to a crime being committed against you. If you see someone having violence committed against him and you intercede on his or her behalf, you’re walking into a gray area that changes depending upon:
- Your county prosecutor
- How law enforcement views your actions
- The law of the land
In general, the series of questions you have to answer before you jump into a confrontation is:
- Can this conflict be avoided? (If YES then do it)
- What’s the minimum amount of force needed to resolve it? (If less than deadly force, do it)
If you see someone shoplifting an entire rack of beer from the local supermarket, that is not justification for the use of deadly force. It’s not even justification to reveal that you have a handgun. Just ask the women who fired shots at a feeling shoplifter last year. Just like if you see two people about to swing fists outside a bar at 3 a.m., you’re not responsible for those people’s decisions or actions and there are sworn officers of the law who will respond accordingly.
Where we get into some real gray areas is if you see someone’s (unoccupied) car being broken into. This is a hard one. You may think you have the perfect tool for the job – and you do. It’s called your cell phone. Take pictures, call 911. You have the power to help law enforcement do their job, but for non-violent felonies involving not your property, that concealed carry permit isn’t a license to thrill.
Stand Your Ground Doesn’t Exist Everywhere
Your state may have ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws (or equivalent) on the books. Stand Your Ground roughly summarizes to – if you’re in a place you have a right to be and you’re not committing any crime, you don’t have to back down from a violent threat. This series of laws does not exist in every single state and the ones who do have those laws don’t always match up. This is the domain of attorneys and court rooms – a place you don’t want to be unless you have to be.
When encountering a ‘gray’ situation where you’re unsure about the application of potentially deadly force, de-escalate. If the situation can be resolved with no violence, always opt for that approach. Let the police do their job and we can stick with what we do best: protecting ourselves, those we love, and our property.