Warning Shots?

Warning Shots

Self-Defense in America today is governed by individual state laws which vary from state to state across our nation. In some states the defender does not have to flee, in others, the defender does not have to flee if they are in their own home, and some the defender has the duty to retreat the aggressor before using deadly force to defend themselves. With this complicated maze of state to state laws, how does one know what to do?

For the above reasons, it is very important for persons who incorporate firearms into their personal protection plans to attend a firearms training class on personal protection where there is also a legal portion taught. This way they can learn about their state laws and how they apply to them when considering the use of a firearm to defend their lives.

Unfortunately, our society is full of misconceptions about what a person can and can’t do regarding self-defense passed on from one individual to another.

One such example was by Vice President Joe Biden during a January 13, 2013 interview he told our nation his opinion on self-defense and what to do if faced with a home invasion.

“Buy a shotgun, buy a shotgun,” Biden went onto explain what he told his wife to do if faced with a home invasion.

 “I said, `Jill, if there’s ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony … take that double-barrel shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house,” Biden said. 

Joe later explained during the interview he learned his lessons on gun safety from his father, who was a hunter. 

To me, it appears Joe gave this advice to his wife before he became Vice President and received a secret service detail to protect him and his family.

Follow along with me as we discuss warning shots and some of the possible legal issues if one was to decide to fire them to scare off a possible attacker.


The NRA Personal Protection in the Home class covers the basic knowledge, skills, and attitude essential to the safe and efficient use of a handgun for protection of self and family, and provides the information on the law-abiding individual’s right to self-defense. This class also covers the simple fact – firearm used for self-defense is a tool of last resort to defend their lives.

Every person who handles or fires a firearm must understand the importance of knowing what your muzzle is covering, and know where your round or shot will impact if it misses or passes through its target. You are legally responsible for every round you fire. In most states, warning shots are prohibited in self-defense situations by law. This law is commonly known as reckless discharge of a firearm.

Let’s take Joe Biden’s advice to his wife Jill in his scenario Jill fires off both barrels of Joe’s shotgun from out on the balcony. I am going out on a limb here and assume Joe left her with some good quality defensive rounds for his shotgun. When Jill fired off those the rounds, she is responsible for each projectile launched into the air. For shotguns it would be each pellet, this equates to about 12 individual rounds for typical self-defense loads with buckshot. They could travel quite a distance, and it is unknown who could be injured or what property might be damaged upon impact.  Jill could be legally liable, both criminally and civilly, for every projectile that left the gun when she fired the warning shot or shots.

For those who would argue, let’s shoot at the ground or other safer direction, I would like to point out the shooter is still responsible for those projectiles if they ricochet or change direction later impacting a person or object causing injury, death, or damage.

If you would choose to fire a warning shot, are you really in imminent fear of great bodily injury or death? If you possess a firearm to defend yourself from an imminent threat of great bodily injury or death, would you choose to fire a warning shot vs. shooting to stop the threat of imminent danger of great bodily injury and/or death?

So let me be clear. Deadly force should only be used when there is a reasonable belief that it is necessary to defend your life, or that of another person in imminent danger of great bodily injury or death, from the use of deadly force. Necessity consists of two factors – imminent danger and the absence of safe alternatives. Imminent is described as a pending action; meaning immediate or instant. A safe alternative would be to avoid the confrontation.

In my state of South Dakota, a citizen who fired a warning shot could face criminal charges and civil charges.

Readers I would like you to consider my article on why warning shots are not acceptable and in some states illegal. Look at the following news stories where citizens have been arrested and or convicted for firing warning shots when confronting criminals.

News Stories:

Disclaimer: Nothing in the article is to be considered legal advice and if you have questions about what is legal when it comes to self-defense in your state please seek out a NRA Citizens Firearms Class on Personal Protection, Post-Certified Law Enforcement Officer, or an Attorney.
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Matt Schlueter is a retired Deputy Sheriff from South Dakota with over 19 years of combined experience in corrections and law enforcement, and held the position of Firearms Instructor and DARE officer with the Sheriffs Office he worked at till his retirement. He is also a NRA Certified Pistol Instructor, and owner/chief instructor of Schlueter Firearms Instruction. Matt’s goal is to provide the best information possible for those who want to further their knowledge and skills in shooting handguns. Matt’s goals also include providing the best training courses possible for students who attended courses he is offering. For those wishing to contact him please visit his website at www.learntwoshoot.com, or www.zwarriortraining.com or you can join him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SchlueterFirearmsInstruction.
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Good article. There are tons of prosecutors who love to use the catch-all phrase “reckless endangerment” even if you were to fire into the ground. I teach my students that even if you are 100% correct in discharging a firearm for self defense, be prepared for your life to change forever.


OK, so if your first shot misses because you are not accurate and the assailant breaks off the attack, is that a warning shot? Do you then have to shoot again to prove the “miss” was not a warning shot, even though the assailant is no longer threatening you?

I would suggest that if you fire the gun, dont use the phrase “warning shot” later when talking to the police.

Nathan Redbeard

Or, conversely, if you do fire a warning shot (against all intelligent advice), simply tell the po-po/prosecutor it wasn’t a warning shot. You just missed.

Matthew Gottschall

Better yet, don’t talk to the police until you have your lawyer at your side. “Officer, I’m worried about civil liability” will help defuse at least some of the suspicion since all police share the same fear of civil lawsuits. Immediately after an encounter, there’s nothing you can say that can’t be said later when you’re calmer.

Andrew Branca, LOSD

This is just awful advice. It’s hard to believe that people still espouse this childish approach to dealing with the aftermath of a deadly-force encounter. In fact, there is a GREAT DEAL that can’t be said, at least in any way useful to your defense, if you wait until you’re calmer.

Matthew Gottschall

Such as? What can be said BETTER under extreme stress than not? This I gotta hear…

Andrew Branca, LOSD

“Significantly, during the 9-1-1 call that occurred within minutes after appellant stabbed [the victim], appellant did not indicate that he had acted in self-defense or out of fear.” Ohio v. Ray, 2013 Ohio 3671 (OH Ct. App. 2013)

This failure to claim self-defense at the scene was used by the Ohio Court of Appeals to reaffirm a murder conviction despite the defendant’s trial claims of self-defense. What you DON’T say at the scene CAN hurt you, and badly. And I could cite cases like this from all 50 states.

Aside from this, what about pointing out exculpatory evidence–say, the attacker’s knife that fell under that car, or the bullet hole in the car behind you indicating that you were fired on, or the handful of people in the crowd who were actual witnesses to what went down. You’re not going to mention any of that until you talk to your lawyer–many, many hours later? By which time someone has walked off with the knife, the truck has driven off, and the witnesses are on their flight back to Europe?

Cool, hope that works for you.

— Andrew, @LawSelfDefense


If the assailant breaks off the attack you are required by law to stop shooting. The fact that they broke off the attack means that you are no longer in imminent threat of great bodily harm or death so you are no longer justified in using deadly force.
The only thing you tell the police until you have an attorney is ‘I feared for my life (or the life of…).’


Jim, respectively, if your first shot misses because you are not accurate, that is not a warning shot. That is a miss. A miss being a shot you intended to hit the subject with, but that did not. A warning shot implies that you wanted to use the loud noise of the weapon to scare off the assailant. Something completely different. That is why people who shoot at people and miss are charged with Assault 2 (in Washington) and not Reckless Endangerment.


Anyone who fires a warning shot is stupid at best, a criminal at worst. Anyone who fires a warning shot into the air should go directly to jail. And that applies to Joe Biden especially!


I get the questions about “warning shots” in almost every class. It is one of the times when I do have to whisper a silent prayer for more self control. My usual response is ” Deadly force is either justified or it isn’t. If you are justified, you really don’t have time to play around. If you are not justified, you have just discharged a deadly weapon. How does anyone know you didn’t just miss? Where will the bullet(s) land? ”
In my heart of hearts, I really feel more like Bowserb who commented below. IDIOTS! If it weren’t for the fact that I really, really believe people about warning shots in good faith, really not wanting to do any harm to anyone, I could probably throw them out of class for even thinking of such stupidity. But, they do take a class to learn.
The other good one is ” Can you just shoot them in the leg?” Again, take a deep breathe and… ” Lord, help me not to mess up and start cussing!”


While collecting signatures on a petition to the local DA, appealing for dismissal of charges against a local rancher for shooting a violent robbery suspect (ex prison guard) that attacked him at night while confirming a license plate number, I encountered a woman who would not sign the petition. She said… “Why didn’t he just ‘shoot him in the leg”.
BTW the petition to the DA was considered and the charges were dropped. The local rancher (ex mill police) who warned assailant, then fired in self defense as his truck window was bashed in, still has over $20,000 in legal fees.


This is why you get Insurance for your CCW, or join the NRA, the NRA if you are involved in a shooting and have to go to court will provide the council needed for your case at no charge for you. There are a few Insurance companies out there that will do the same thing for you.

Andrew Branca, LOSD

I’m a life member of the NRA and I very much doubt that the NRA is going to cover the total legal defenses of any member involved in a deadly force shooting. Can you back up that statement?


I would like to know if they can back up that statement too.


OK suppose the bad guy is in your house at 3 am, he is carrying a pistol, his back is to you as he comes toward the foot of your stairs– he’s apparently about to come up the stairs. Do you:

A. wait until he turns and begins to come up the stairs before shooting him
B. don’t wait; shoot him in the back now
C. fire a warning shot now and be prepared to shoot him if he turns to come up the stairs.

Ayoob says the correct answer is B, shoot him in the back now. He’s obviously a threat, and you are in your own home and fully reasonable to confront the threat now. Only on TV or when someone is running away is shooting someone in the back a bad thing. So let him have it.

On the other hand, as we saw in the Zimmerman trial, a jury of your peers is composed of people who watch TV! They’re going to ask why you were so quick to shoot. How did you know he wasn’t going to run away if you fired a warning shot?

So no answer guarantees you won’t have some problems with it in court.

Mike W

While there are no perfect answers, I’d say go with your gut protect yours family and your self. A or B with some dependancies, not C. It alerts him and will likely start a gun battle in your home, not good. If you shoot and he grabs cover, it’s likely gonna be on and that is not good for Your loved ones are upstairs as they become potential stray targets. Plus what if you loose. I look at it this way if some one is in my house in the middle of the night with a gun (or not) then they have expressed their intentions.


I was a law enforcement officer for over 20 years and am still in the criminal justice system. It is my firm belief that warning shots per se should never be taken even it the statutes allow it. If the situation is bad enough that you have to draw your weapon and even point it at a person it is already bad. While you are thinking about firing a warning shot the aggressor will likely be upon you. When you decide to shoot, shoot to stop. If it kills the aggressor so be it. They made the choice to place themselves in that position, not you. Now if you shoot and miss that is a whole different story and as you stated, the shooter is responsible for every round that leaves the weapon whether it is a single projectile or pellets. Firing a warning shot is not that much different that brandishing a firearm “just to scare” the person. Not a good idea for the same reasons. The action a person takes that may take another person’s life should always be taken seriously and well thought out before the event, not when the event confronts you. Plan appropriately, take at least one firearms class and practice, practice, practice.

Bill Hildebrand

As a career law enforcement officer I can tell you that warning shots were not only strictly forbidden by department policy, but in academy training the danger of them was strongly stressed. Whoever fires a shot in self defense is liable and responsible for all rounds going down range. Shots in the air or shots in the ground are not controlled and anything can happen.

As the famous Russina born comedian Yakov Smirnoff once claimed: “In Russia we shoot first guy. That’s warning for second guy.” All joking aside, the warning shot is nothing but trouble for te shooter who is trying to claim self defense. It would be harder to claim self deense in a shooting if the defendant was so reckless as to fire a warning shot first. Verbal commands of “Go away! Get back! Get out of my house!” before and during having to defend oneself is much easier to defend in court and prove self defense. It shows a more responsible action as compared to a warning shot.

Bill Hildebrand
Protective Security Consultant
NationWatch Protective Advisors, LLC


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Mike W

I’d like to add something that else that was missed about the warning shot advice that Joe B. gave his wife. The act of firing two warning shots our of your double barrel shot gun leaves you with an empty shotgun. This creates an opportunity for your adversary were I the bad guy, I’d pounce as soon as warning number two was fired. So not only from a legal stand point is this somewhat ill advice but it is not very good tactical advice either.


Was thinking the same thing, two shots from a double barrel??? What is it with our Vice -Presidents and shotguns???

Mike W

In deed, plus I could continue to add this,… Going outside, another tactical mistake, Joe’s wife needs a better advisor.


The US people need a better advisor!


In VA, if you fire a warning shot, 1: you are responsible for every round you fire (exactly as he wrote above), 2: you just proved that you had another option of leaving the area instead of firing a bullet into the air, which looks bad on you by the police if you did end up shooting someone after your “warning” shot. Shows intent. It is important to also point out that if you fire a “warning” shot, you may very well be throwing away a vital opportunity to defend yourself in the event you needed that last round….. as mentioned above: take a class but make sure you get the information you are looking for and it is YOUR responsibility to update yourself on the changing laws in your area/state. Be safe


What has bothered me about VP Biden’s instructions to his wife, apart from the condescending lying part, is that he has advised her to leave the relative safety of home where she can cover known entry points with this shotgun of hers, go outside into the dark where an unknown threat may await, and empty her gun. Now she is ignorant of the threat, exposed to attack, partially deafened, and flash blinded. Assuming she lives in a remote area where shotgun pellets aren’t a risk to neighbors, this is terrible tactical advice. I have zero military or law enforcement training but common sense suggests that Joe’s wife is in a lot more danger now than she was when she was inside, covering the door, with two rounds chambered.


hey, whaddya speck, da guy’s a politician. Anyone who listens to his words, including his wife, does so at their own risk. There HAVE been cases where someone has actually DONe what he “advises”, though, taking him as an accurate source of information Too bad…..


Remember, this is the same mentally challenged individual that stated a shotgun was easier to control and use than an AR-15. Realistically, if his wife did do something as ridiculous as that she would run the real risk of being shot by the very people who are tasked to protect her.


All I can figure is that Biden has a large life insurance policy on his wife…

James Van Valkenburg

No warning shots. Other bystanders, unknown environment, too many variables.
In the 4 rules for fire arms are these two:

2) Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy!
4) Always be sure of your target! (both in front of the target and behind)

Now, tell me how I can apply these rules with a warning shot.
If I am in danger, under the threat of bodily harm, I will defend myself starting with the first round.


Most important information of all is to avoid, whenever possible, the confrontation and it will not be a question of firing a warning shot. And, yes, I know that is not always possible to make that decision in the heat of the moment but it should ALWAYS be on your mind. As we were taught at the Front Sight Defensive Handgun course… be always in condition Yellow (being alert to your surroundings at all times) allowing you to be in a better position to avoid a confrontation.


With the rising cost and availability
of ammo I believe a warning shot is not fiscally prudent.

Tim R.

Not to mention that “warning shots” are a waste of expensive, hard to find ammo. Say you’ve got a 6 round revolver (I don’t recommend for self defense), you fire one, maybe two warning shots to intimidate an attacker. That only leaves you with 4 or 5 rounds for unfortunate lethal force. Make every single shot count, especially the first one.


Biden has the IQ of a chipmunk, so what do you expect him to say?


My “Warning shot” is my first miss

Allen Benge

Due to the rising cost of ammo, there will be no warning shots. Sorry for the inconvenience.
I was taught in the academy not to fire warning shots, ever. If I fire my weapon, I am shooting to stop the actions of someone endangering life. Warning shots do not stop bad guys reliably, and create more problems than they solve.


With the high price of quality self-defense ammunition these days, who can afford to fire warning shots? (Ha-Ha?)


Joe Biden is absolutely wrong!
I will fire no warning shots! My ammo is reserved for range use or for protecting me and my family, in my home or away from home. I also operate on the principle that nothing I own is worth taking a life so, it has to be an eminent threat of violence against my person or another, nothing less.
In a threatening situation as soon as I possibly can I will call 911, but the police will never be less than 5 minutes away and maybe hours away so, you are your only defense.
These, then, are my tactics; four steps in all, in sequential order (the 911 call happens anytime before, during or after as the situation allows).
At home;
Evade/escape if at all possible. If not, barricade/hide. If discovery appears eminent, a shouted verbal warning, “Go away! I am armed and I will shoot you!” If none of the three previous tactics work, I shoot to kill. I will not fire my weapon to injury and disable, I will fire only if I believe the only way left to me to stop the attacker(s) is to kill them.
Away from home the same tactics apply, the only difference is I will not draw my weapon until I mean to shoot to kill.
As far as criminal action against me for using a firearm in self defense, I’ll take my chances with a judge and jury rather than a funeral director and pallbearers.


Good four steps except never shoot to kill and never admit that was your plan. Always shoot to stop. If you even remotely indicate in your statement that you meant to kill ,you’ll be portrayed as a kill happy monster in the media or court room. Shoot to stop the attack and then continue to shoot until the attack stops. Two to the center of mass and then if that doesn’t work try the head shot in case the attacker is doped up or has body armor.

James E.Chapman

In my humble opinion,once a person is on their own property,or within their home,where else does one have to flee to?If Im in my shack,and someone kicks in my door,they are not there to give me a hug or a high five,they are there to do me harm,I will act in a manor to eliminate the threat.If a over ambitious prosecutor puts me up on charges,at least I will be alive to answer them.They government through their statutes,and ordinances that contradict law have lost what little common sense they had due to greed and hunger for power,and screw whats right.I say if you know you are under threat of bodily harm or worse,do what you have to do,I know I will,or at least try.


If someone is literally busting in your door its pretty much guaranteed that if you decide to shoot them that you are going to be justified regardless of Castle Doctrine or not.

Decades before we got concealed carry or castle doctrine there were cases frequent enough where some punk was busting in on a family or a woman and they shot his worthless hide dead…at least one I remember was thru the door as the man busted out the glass by an older couple…and I cant remember any of them where the home owner was convicted of any wrong doing.

Castle doctrine removes the DUTY to retreat. Without CD it still doesnt mean that you cant defend yourself in your home, car or even on the streets. You just have to be able to prove that you had no other choice but to use your gun…which absolutely SHOULD be a requirement in EVERY self defense shooting.


I as a retired officer would NEVER fire a warning shot. My training said if you draw/point your weapon at someone be prepared to use DEADLY force, no warning shots

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I was in the army we were never train to give warning shoot.


Seriously, if one was going to shoot warning shots, why not use blanks? No chance for harm or damage, except for maybe hearing loss temporarily. Where I live, they say warning shots are considered intimidation, but if you are in fear of your life, would a blank round fired be considered as such or would it be seen as a logical step before shooting the attacker and possibly taking their life? I wonder how many courts have dealt with such a scenario?

Bigg Gunn

Too much talk. Here are the rules:
1- Stand your ground all the time. ( if you want to shoot, shoot. If you want to fight then fight.
2- If you choose to shoot. Know how. The same goes for fighting.
3- As you get older. Law doesn’t mean much. They make laws every day. The main thing is to protect yourself.

4- Who listens to cops anyway. Most of them are crooks. Shoot his a33 if you have to.
If you do not intend to protect yourself. Who are you going to run to???
Will I shoot first then ask questions?
I am: too old to fight.
too fat to run.
too smart to get hurt. Think about it. ( Know matter where I am…)


1. Good luck with that. I expect to see you in a prison somewhere soon enough.
2. The choice to shoot needs to be in line with the law if you dont want to end up in prison yourself.
3. Protect yourself at all costs, I agree, but you sound like its ok to break the law and shoot just because you WANT to shoot. Not even the cops can get away with this sort of nonsense.
4. MOST cops are great people, guy. Quit exaggerating. I am a LAW ABIDING citizen and in all my years Ive only crossed two bad cops. 99% of them have been really great people.

weasle 94

I have taken several classes in Virginia and consulted with my attorney .All the classes had different answers and my attorney said it depends on many factors and if you find yourself in a bad situation ,we will take it from there,however donot make any statements to the police. I will probably take a slug and get sued for being in the way !!!

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Its highly unlikely that a warning shot is going to do much more than showing the gun to begin with.
If youve presented a gun to an attacker, they are either taking you seriously and are going to run…or they arent. Firing a shot isnt going to change much if you dont hit them and it could actually make them think that you are afraid to shoot them directly.

Take a hint from what we see law enforcement doing. Be VERY aggressive. Be LOUD. YELL out COMMANDS. Dont let the attacker talk. If they see that you are confident in your position and ability its more likely that they will retreat so you dont have to pull the trigger.


How is it a “felony” that he shot into the ground to stop the burglar? Stupid! I think a warning shot is a bad idea (saw a story on a guy who fired a “warning shot” and was shot in the face by the guy he warned, who took it as incoming fire). But how is this guy a felon for this, doomed to lose all his weapons and rights?


Every one don’t use easily weapon. One upon a time in our area Marriage party were doing during the party one person open the fire. the gun back and bullet hut in his head. reason is that he was not perfect shooter first time use this gun.


As a retired police officer we where told not to fire a warning shot you draw your gun its to shoot to kill,, but i have fire my fire arm in the air to break up a crowd once and it worked there was only two of us officers there and around thirty people in the crowd tossing things at us,, i got my ass chewed out by my comanding officer but thats as far as it got and it was on my report sheet.


Its really a good thing if you can sovle a problem with just a warning shot but laws differ in ever state.


whats really dumb i seen is someone getting heavey prison time for shooting a warning shot while a person who killed someone gets less time.

Petra Carlisle

What is the law regarding discharging a weapon, even with a concealed permit? Is one required by law to warn or advise that you have a gun if you are protecting someone else ( in a public setting) and it is not self defense?