The Threat is Not Always Armed

09 November 2017

"I am afraid of using a firearm in a situation where an unarmed attacker is in my house because I am concerned about being charged for murder."

Let’s explore this often contentious and very common concern a little bit, hopefully giving you a small measure of confidence when assessing such a situation for yourself.

Most people are under the impression that firing on an unarmed intruder will automatically result in jail time. This is however only the case when there is no imminent threat. For example, if a suspect is simply fleeing down the road after having committed an offence, they do not present an imminent threat.

Every situation is unique, and as a well-informed firearm owner, it is vital for your safety and the safety of others, that you can distinguish between what defines an immediate threat and what does not. Not to mention legal issues...

An unarmed attacker advancing on you can quickly become a serious threat. Especially once within a range of seven metres or less, where an unarmed attacker has a strong chance of severely hurting you, even if you’re armed. Some people may even drop their guard when they have a firearm and the attacker has nothing. This is a potentially fatal mistake.

The reason for this is that you do not know whether or not the attacker knows how to handle themselves, no matter what their physical stature is. Never underestimate a threat. If they advance on your position, especially in a house, a fraction of a second is all it takes to completely reverse the situation.

In that kind of situation you must act swiftly and decisively. You won't have time to change options once they launch an attack. The courts generally understand this, and will simply look closely to verify that the situation you describe really happened.

A related issue that people fret about is whether or not one can ever shoot an attacker in the back. While in most cases it’s not a good idea, here’s an example of a situation where it would be reasonable:

Let's say you’re woken up in the early hours of the morning by a sound in your hallway. You pick up your firearm to ensure your safety while investigating the source of the sound, and as you exit your bedroom you encounter an intruder in the hall. On seeing you, they may decide to flee in the opposite direction. Unfortunately however, at the opposite end of the hallway is your child’s bedroom, and the intruder is headed directly for it.

You would be asked in court if you believed the intruder posed a direct threat to anybody. Do you think that in that moment, your child will remain unhurt by a fleeing suspect being suddenly trapped in their room with them? In most cases, it can be argued that a reasonable person has every reason to fear their child being harmed in that scenario, warranting using necessary force to end the situation.

Expecting a fixed set of circumstances in every violent or imminently violent encounter is problematic though. In the above, there may be exceptions again that make it a bad idea to shoot. Where is your child in relation to the angle you’re shooting from? Is there some outlying reason that while not apparent to us now will be obvious in the moment (and later in court) that makes it clear that it was actually unreasonable to shoot?

As you can see, just owning a firearm is not good enough. You must train yourself to identify all threats, to either yourself or others. Owning a firearm is a great responsibility. You're not only responsible for your own safety, but the safety of every other person around you. Practice constantly, both physically and through thinking through various scenarios to make yourself mentally capable of considering almost every eventuality.

With self-defence action, it’s not so much what you do or what you use, as whether or not it was truly necessary in that moment.

By: A GOSA Contributor with Police Experience

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