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Explaining the deadly force decision: "self defense in a nutshell." (part 10) (Lethal Force) (Column)

Part X

It doesn't matter what you sell -- paint, clothing, groceries, books, or whatever -- customers look to the dealer as the expert in their particular field. So what's the difference between a gun dealer and a paint dealer? Well, nobody ever killed someone with a can of paint. (Okay, almost nobody.) If your customer shoots someone with a gun they've purchased from you, the jury may look to you as the person who is ultimately liable.

For the past 10 months, self defense expert Massad Ayoob has given an in-depth analysis of the factors which need to be present in order for a gun owner to justify using their weapon to defend their own life. It has been a far cry from what most gun dealers believe, which often includes advice like, "If you shoot someone, drag them into your house." This month, Ayoob gives a wrap up of the whole matter.

The customer bought the gun from you and said, "All right, I've finally got a gun to use for self defense. Now tell me, when can I pull the trigger?"

You don't have time to give the customer the history of the English Common Law, or the key points of "Warren On Homicide." At the same time, you are this valued customer's role model and he has just put you on the spot for advice. Remember, service and advice is why he came to you instead of buying his gun at the firearms counter of the department store.

To recap the previous nine installments, here's the situation in a nutshell.

"Deadly force" or "lethal force" is that degree of force which a reasonable and prudent person would expect to cause death or grave bodily harm. A person armed with a gun is incontrovertibly in command of lethal force.

Lethal force is justifiable only in a situation of immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm to oneself, or to another innocent person one has the right under law to protect.

Trespassing, theft and insults are not grounds for the firing of a gun. Only when killing or crippling force is used or is about to be used against the innocent can a similar level of force be employed by the citizen defender.

Three criteria must be present to create that condition of immediate, otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm to the innocent. These criteria are ability, opportunity, and jeopardy.

By "ability," we mean that the attacker must have at his command the power to kill or cripple. This will typically be some sort of a weapon, but may also include disparity of force.

Disparity of force is the situation that authorizes the law-abiding citizen to shoot what appears to be an unarmed man. In this concept, the law recognizes that the power of the attacker to kill or cripple with "body weapons," fists or feet, may be so great vis-a-vis the defender's stature and ability that this disparity of physical force becomes the aggressor's deadly weapon.

If the attacker is a black belt or a professional fighter and known to your customer as such at the time, he possesses disparity of force. So does an unarmed male violently attacking an unarmed female. So does a gang, and as few as two unarmed assailants can give grounds for justifiable homicide if they attack ferociously enough. However, once all but one have been turned back or neutralized, the sole survivor is no longer a member of a gang and may no longer be shot -- at least, not for that reason.

A sound and healthy person viciously attacking a cripple, or a strong young man attacking a weak old person, also create disparity of force.

"Opportunity" means the aggressor is capable of immediately employing his deadly ability in terms of distance, obstacles, etc. Although it is not widely known, the average man, from a standing start, can close 21 feet and sink a knife into a human target in less than 1.5 seconds. A man trained in disarming and standing within reach will almost certainly gain control of the gun before your customer can pull the trigger, even if they start aimed and ready. An old soldier's rule; Action beats reaction.

"Jeopardy," means that the aggressor is acting in such a manner that a reasonable and prudent person would conclude that the aggressor's intent was to kill or cripple. When a customer pulls from his kit bag a gun he wants your store to buy, he has ability and opportunity, but your salesman does not shoot the customer in self defense because the customer has not acted in a manner that implies jeopardy.

Conversely, if a maniac walks into your gun shop and screams at you, "Motherf--er, I'll kill you" as he makes an obvious drawing movement toward his hip, jeopardy exists and you or your salesman are justified in firing. If it turns out the man was only bluffing and had no weapon, the law holds that the shooting was still justifiable; the attacker acted in such a way as to create, in your reasonable and prudent minds, the belief that he was armed and about to kill you.

Fight Or Flee

The use of deadly force should always be a last resort. Although one is not legally required to flee an intruder in one's own home, on the street, many states have a requirement to retreat before using deadly force against an assailant. Even so, the wording of these "retreat requirements" is generally such that one is expected to retreat only if he or she may do so in a manner which is safe to them and to other innocent persons.

Many states have passed into law "castle doctrines" that seem to allow the home owner to shoot any intruder they find in the home. However, that is an incorrect interpretation. All the castle doctrines and the laws throughout our land, permit use of deadly force against a home intruder only if thee citizen reasonably believes that he is immediately and seriously threatened by that person, or that another member of the family is.

The shooting of a fleeing felon, while it may be justified by certain rare and extraordinary circumstances, is generally forbidden. The primary holding of the law is that once the criminal breaks off the attack, he is no longer placing anyone in immediate danger and therefore can no longer legally be shot in self defense. The law permits killing force to protect in the here and now, not to avenge in the aftermath.

Bullets cannot be called back and pulling the trigger may be the heaviest decision the citizen ever makes. He or she will be judged, not in "the snuffing of a scumbag," but "in the death of a citizen." The wise firearms retailer will make deadly force training and training materials available to every customer and encourage that they be studied and absorbed.
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Article Details
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Author:Ayoob, Massad
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Shooting industry's 1992 shotgun survey.
Next Article:Mossberg's 410 home defender: a well-targeted shotgun.

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