3 Lessons Every Gun Owners Needs to Know to Avoid Legal Trouble

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By Edwin Walker

As an attorney, I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with what gun owners have done to make their situations more complicated and difficult before, during, and after using force or deadly force to defend themselves. I refer to them as war stories, but there are a lot of lessons to be learned from them and they’re useful to all gun owners. It’s best to think about these situations before they happen so you’re prepared and have the best chance of avoiding legal entanglements.

1) Know How to Handle Road Rage

One of the most common circumstances where people get charged with unlawfully using force or deadly force is during a road rage incident. Being singled out by a maniac driving a 3,000-pound deadly weapon can be terrifying. Unfortunately, it’s usually the initial victim of the road rage incident who winds up in trouble for their response.

The best defense in a road rage situation is to remove yourself from the area. Speed up, slow down, change lanes, exit the freeway…just get yourself away as quickly as you can. Then call the police and report the aggressive, reckless driver. This is not about egos, this is about staying alive while staying out of legal trouble.

If you find you can’t get away, don’t be lured into responding with your own rage. This is especially true with regard to responding with a firearm. As long as the aggressive driver isn’t threatening you with a gun or is not attempting to get into your car or pull you out of it, do not show, point, or discharge a firearm.

If the road rager is still in their car and you show them your gun, you have played right into their hands. They will likely call the police and tell them that they were minding their own business when a crazy person — YOU — pulled up beside him and pointed a gun at them. This is the ultimate form of road rage, getting you to respond with a firearm and then calling the police to report you as the aggressor.

Remember, if you’re in your metal box and they are in their metal box, the police and prosecutors will believe there was no imminent threat of harm that necessitated any response with a firearm. Even if the other party bumps your car, they’d claim it was an unintentional fender bender, and you overreacted by pointing a gun at them.

Displaying your firearm is only appropriate as a last resort to protect yourself in situations where the other person has a weapon, or the other driver is out of their car and attempting to get into your vehicle or remove you from it.

It’s a sad commentary on the world we live in, but to defend themselves against false accusations, more and more people are mounting cameras in their cars. This is not a bad idea and can certainly provide much-needed evidence in a self-defense case.

2) Using a Gun Against A ‘Less Than Deadly’ Threat

Another situation that can get people into legal hot water is when they display or discharge their firearm at another person who may appear threatening, but isn’t armed with a weapon. We have heard prosecutors say — many times — “you can’t shoot an unarmed man.”

Even though we all know that every year many people are strangled, maimed, or killed by criminals who didn’t have weapons, the police and prosecutors almost always assume the person with the gun is the aggressor when the other individual is unarmed.

It’s important to remember that words, no matter how inciting and aggressive, do not justify responding with force or deadly force. You must wait until you see a physical act that constitutes a reasonable threat of unlawful injury or death before you can legally respond with deadly force.

In many cases, this may even mean that there must be physical contact resulting in injury before a jury will find it reasonable that you shot and perhaps killed someone who merely threatened to “beat you up.”

3) Talking Your Way Into Criminal Charges

Finally, many people who have used force or deadly force in a self-defense situation have talked themselves into being charged with a crime. When the police respond, they are usually given very little information prior to their arrival.

Remember, the police are there to investigate an incident in order to determine what facts will be turned over to the district attorney. The DA will then file charges based solely on that information.

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Unfortunately, the first version of events a police officer hears will often be the basis for their working theory of a case. Many times in self-defense situations, the person who calls 911 will give their version first. In these situations, it is important to remember when speaking with the police and 911 operators that the facts you give are limited to only those detailing the criminal acts of the other person.

I have seen situations where simply agreeing with some of the “facts” the police have gotten from other sources can give them enough corroboration, and can ultimately lead to you being charged. The police must know why you used your weapon before you admit to using your weapon. That’s why the best course of action is to say as little as possible to police until you’ve spoken to an attorney.

 

Edwin Walker is an independent program attorney at US LawShield.

comments

  1. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

    laser sights are illegal in shickagoo.
    if you carry sa revolver, don’t put the chemdog in the empty chamber.
    full auto at the range draws attention.

    1. avatar frank speak says:

      ….or better yet….WHEN IN DOUBT…DON”T!…..

  2. avatar Debbie W. says:

    Examples of stupid with a gun are all over the place. And following all the drama stupid finds himself in a jail filled with azzhats just like the nitwit he used a gun on. It’s back to square one multiplied by the number of attorneys, judges and inmates. Bottom line…Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

  3. avatar Tired of the bs says:

    What’s that saying?? Oh yeah shoot, shovel, shut up.

    1. avatar enuf says:

      …. police not fooled, get arrested, judge throws the book at you …. meet your new cell mates!!!

      1. avatar Tired of the bs says:

        Some police are fools, revolvers and shotguns are your friends, throwing books is cruel and unusual punishment and I always think positive your the one locked in here with me so it becomes your problem.

        1. avatar possum says:

          I fart a lot

        2. avatar Geoff "Ammo. LOTS of ammo..." PR says:

          “I fart a lot”

          That’s what you get for rooting in the Taco Bell dumpster for your dinner.

          *snicker*… 🙂

        3. avatar Hannibal says:

          I wonder what percentage of inmates in prison thought they were too smart to get caught.

        4. avatar Tired of the bs says:

          Probably most of them.

  4. avatar possum says:

    I can deal with road rage, I can keep my mouth shut, but threats are hard to shrug off. I figure if somebody says, “I’m going to kill you!” they mean it.

    1. avatar Ing says:

      It’s usually a safe assumption. I said that to a possum once, many years ago, and I meant it.

      Had no way to follow through, and I’m pretty sure he knew it, but I wouldn’t have been so cavalier about making that threat if I’d known that at least one possum out there carries a gunm.

    2. avatar Thixotropic says:

      “IF you wait to see the gun, you will see what comes out of it…”

      Massad Ayoob

    3. avatar Southern Cross says:

      I just move over, using my indicators properly as they are there for several reasons, and let them pass. More often than not karma bites them sooner or later.

      More than a few times I’ve let someone go and seen them rear-end someone else further down the road.

      Better to arrive late than as “The Late…” . Most times my journeys are not that time critical.

      1. avatar Southern Cross says:

        Is this a random moderation check? There was no foul or obscene language. No threats or acts of violence. Any reason why?

        1. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

          i see no indicators.

  5. avatar Darkman says:

    Considering advanced age and poor health it doesn’t take much to feel threatened. That’s all I need. to say.

  6. avatar former water walker says:

    RE #2…I’ve been hammered on ttag for saying I carry SabreRed pepper spray & a knife. And sometimes a gun. Some trolls commented “pepper spray is stoo-pid”. ” If you have to use it you should just shoot ’em” drivel. The pepper is for dog’s. Effective on 2 legged critters too. I also traversed Chiraq completely unarmed and engaged with ruffians on the EL and otherwise. Now I’m old and not so tough. The road rage is difficult with the multiple lunatics…

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      That’s exactly why I carry SabreRed as well. Dogs off the leash and looking at you like lunch meat.

      1. avatar Geoff "Guns. LOTS of guns..." PR says:

        I bought my SaberRed on the recommendation of Former Water Walker, and I EDC it for out-and-about, and my nighttime bike rides, along with a NAA mini-revolver for ‘Velo-Dog’ duty…

    2. avatar possum says:

      Pepper spray works better on dogs then humans. Believe me you guys, pepper spray will not stop a determined drunk or drugged up human

      1. avatar Rad Man says:

        It might not stop an attacker but it might level the playing field somewhat. Similarly, employing an intermediate non lethal before drawing a handgun could possibly make the shoot look like it was a last resort, and you’d exhausted every other option. Just a thought.

        And oft repeated legal advice, do not speak to the police. Identify yourself, suffer the indignity of arrest of you must, but stfu.

        1. avatar California Richard says:

          “..but it might level the playing field somewhat.”

          Ya, you’ll both be coughing, snotting, crying and blind…. equally.

      2. avatar gus says:

        doesn’t work well on dogs either. they need to invent a pepper spray rifle.

        1. avatar Darkman says:

          Pepper spray ain’t shit compared to Black Flag wasp and hornet spray. Range of 10 to 15 feet with a solid stream and guaranteed to blind and stop any attacker. That stuff is no joke. I got some in eyes years ago and couldn’t see shit for about 30 minutes even after washing it out. Pepper spray may be Illegal in some jurisdictions. Black Flag is legal everywhere. Yes the can is a little burdensome to carry around, but not as much as having the Shit kicked out of you or worse being Dead. I keep a can in my vehicles in case of an attack from critters and such. Be Safe Out There.

        2. avatar Geoff "Guns. LOTS of guns..." PR says:

          “they need to invent a pepper spray rifle.”

          SabreRed comes in a 30-foot range ‘stream’ version. That’s what I carry…

        3. avatar Rad Man says:

          Darkman, if you knowingly blind someone for life, expect to do serious time.

        4. avatar Someone says:

          Darkman, it says right there on the wasp spray that using it for anything not described in the instructions is a crime.

        5. avatar Joel says:

          Darkman, I’ve heard this urban legend as well, and that’s what it is. An urban legend. Wasp spray is a bad alternative to pepper spray. It causes less immediate incapacitation, and has permanent and severe long term side affects to the person sprayed. (Most of it is chemically similar to WW2 nerve gas.)

          I have also been very skeptical of pepper spray, personal tasers, etc., etc., but lucky gunner recently did Some research on and testing of pepper spray products that has converted me. He also referenced an individual who does a lot of force on force training, and THAT GUY (who’s name escapes me at the moment) knows what he is talking about.

          Bottom line, pepper spray has limitations, but is one of the best “less lethal” defensive products available to the average American, and it’s cheap, small, and easy to carry. People who mock those who carry it, have not taken the time to be educated on the subject.

      3. avatar Levi says:

        possum said: “Believe me you guys, pepper spray will not stop a determined drunk or drugged up human.”

        I have a lot of experience with pepper spray, and have been sprayed several times in classes. All pepper sprays are not created equal. Just like hot sauce at the grocery store, they come in mild, medium and hot concentrations of the active ingredient oleoresin capsicum. Cops carry different strengths and spray patterns – stream (to avoid hitting others and better in wind), cone (don’t have to aim as nearly as well), and fog (for crowd dispersal). There is also a goopy gel, but I don’t think it works very well – can be wiped off by the criminal and thrown back at you or rubbed in your face.

        There are many brands. Sabre Red brand people mentioned here is OK, but the ones I’ve bought from Amazon don’t seem to clearly have the strengths listed on the sprays (may have changed). Lots of police carry Defense Technology sprays. It comes clearly marked in 0.2% to 1.3% in the different spray patterns, and different canister sizes. The Mark-III size is very handy – about 3″ tall (can buy belt cases [clip or loop, nylon or leather, Velcro or snap] on Amazon or at the on-line cop stores). The cops usually carry the Mark-IV size – about 8″ tall. There are bigger and smaller sizes. Or there are even ones the size of small fire extinguishers (Sabre Red sometimes has a size like this on Amazon – Dog the Bounty Hunter on the reality show carried one this size on a leg holster).

        I can tell you that the 1.3% oil-based formulas are brutal, and will cause immediate effects on the eyes (closing, watering, pain) and on the respiratory tract (coughing, sneezing, constricted breathing, pain). I had to stay under a hose using baby shampoo to wash it out for many minutes and it still stung for a half-hour. I don’t care if you are on PCP, meth, vodka or Fruit Loops, if you are sprayed with that you are going down. The videos you see of people not being affected when sprayed by cops are with the low-concentrations sprays that some departments mandate to avoid lawsuits from criminals and bystanders.

        Lots of technical info on the Def Tech website (link below) and you can download the catalog at the bottom of the page (I am not associated with them). You can some of the sprays on Amazon and from many of the on-line police supply stores (make sure it is legal in your city; legal almost everywhere in the U.S.). The availability of types and sizes varies on Amazon from month to month. They also have the “inert” sprays with no pepper (in green cans) so you can set up a drawn face target and practice. There are some instructional videos on how to use it (not complicated) that sometimes come up on Amazon or Ebay (search on “pepper spray” under videos). Basically you just blast the criminal in a “Z” pattern on their face for a second or two and RUN. If you beat them up after spraying you can be charged with battery by a lib prosecutor because the threat is gone. Since the police use it, it is “jury-friendly” as opposed to other weapons.

        https://www.defense-technology.com/product-category/oc-pepper-spray/#

        By the way, “bear spray” in the little fire extinguisher size (from Amazon and outdoor stores for $45 or so) is a whole other level up from the police sprays. I foolishly got some of that on my leg on a hike and it burned like I had been scalded with boiling water. Had to eventually stand in a creek. It is made to stop huge grizzlys and even polar bears, and usually works (it has been tested many times on captive bears.) If a person already has any breathing problems, I speculate that bear spray could actually be lethal. Buildings have had to be evacuated when someone used bear spray inside. It gets into the ventilation system and lingers for days.

        1. avatar RidgeRunner says:

          Would like to find the DefTech but nobody around here sells it, and it’s not available off the website. Do have bear spray, you’re saying that’s even stronger.

        2. avatar RidgeRunner says:

          Found it, thanks, and a bunch of other preparedness stuff that may come in handy.

    3. avatar Weapon of War says:

      UDAP. Best pepper spray. Used it on an unfortunate drunk moron in Shakopee, MN years ago. Paramedics were called for the moron. Cops coughed and gagged 15 mins later, and asked me “wtf is that shit”

  7. avatar enuf says:

    This lawyer person is completely wrong. As plenty of TTAG people have posted, all you truly need is your own certainty, attitude and a superior sense of yourself. From there you can pretty well get away with anything that is righteous in your own head.

    (sarcasm may have been a factor in the above incident)

  8. avatar Chief Censor says:

    Don’t pull a gun if you are not going to use it unless you want to escalate the situation to life and death. If you do pull your gun you better have a justifiable reason otherwise you will be face down on the ground if not dead. Doesn’t matter if you are a woman or older, do the wrong thing and you will be idiot gun owner of the day.

  9. avatar Hannibal says:

    The road rage advice is excellent. People lose their damn minds when cars are involved. Do you want to die over that space that will save you .05 seconds in traffic? No? Cool, what if the other guy is willing to?

    Chill out.

  10. avatar Bruce says:

    One thing that I have done in responding to road rage is to get behind the other vehicle. Once they get next to you, on the freeway, you are most of the way there. Just hit the brakes, and they will go whizzing on by. They brake, you brake. Stay behind them, and you are in control. If you stay in the right lane, they will have to reverse pass you in the left lane, and that can end up pissing off the people coming up from behind, and passing you, riding in the right lane where you belong. When these other drivers honk at him, you are usually out of danger. But if that doesn’t happen, you still have a chance to take an exit after he has driven by it. Keep in mind that you probably can’t win, if catches you. If he shoots you (or beats you badly), you lose. But you also lose if you use deadly force to defend yourself, no matter how legally justified it was – even if you win, the process alone is often the punishment. The moral is to avoid confrontations at almost any cost, and that is usually easier in a vehicle.

    1. avatar Hugh Glass says:

      100%, stay behind ’em.

  11. avatar gus says:

    oh sure. I HAVE unassed the area and called the cops on road ragers before. they said did he run into your car? no? nothing we can do, have a nice day.

    YMMV but not much

    1. avatar Darkman says:

      Advice from an LE friend. Don’t report incidents as Road Rage. Report them as an Impaired Driver it gets a much higher response level. DUI’s are like Honey to Bee’s in the LE world. Lots of fines and court costs for the coffers. Plus the PR of taking another dangerous drunk driver of the roads.

      1. avatar warfab says:

        Seems like some pretty solid advice. Thanks.

      2. avatar Cea says:

        And then there’s that annoying little “false report to the police” thingy…

    2. avatar Hannibal says:

      In most states ‘road rage’ is not a crime or violation, per se- much like ‘being an asshole’ is not a crime, but disorderly conduct is. In both cases, the cops cannot really do much unless they are there to witness it.

      So if you report it I would report the underlying issues. Is the other driver driving erratically (probably), tailgating, speeding, etc? Those are actionable violations.

      1. avatar gus says:

        in my cases, cutting you off by swerving in front of you literally 5-10 feet in front of your bumper. when you are going 70 on the interstate that should be reckless driving, if not reckless endangerment.

        didn’t hit my car so they were not going to respond. I suppose, it didn’t happen in front of them…

        1. avatar Cea says:

          I’ve had that happen to me…by the State Police! I thought that it was an emergency developing for them. But nope. They just wanted to get over a few lanes and travel the same speed as the rest of us for miles.

  12. avatar Ralph Humphrey says:

    “..rooting in the Taco Bell dumpster..”

    Didn’t you mean White Castle???
    They have an extra special kind of aroma, you know…
    My dog likes White Castle, but I don’t allow him in the same room for at least 24 hours after the fact!

  13. avatar 1SFGSFC says:

    I live in WA state. All the libtards on I-5 causes a lot of HBP. Especially the Karen with a Biden and Coexist sticker on a Lezbaru going 45 in a 60 MPH zone. LOL

  14. avatar The Rookie says:

    I never have a problem with road rage. Not because I’m any more centered or less annoyed by Road Jackasses. But because I find it so much more fun to mutter insults under my breath. (“Hey, nice girlfriend! Who needs teeth!”)

    More seriously concerning #3. The instructor in my gun law class (who was a former cop before becoming a lawyer) pointed out that our legal system is adversarial, by design. Police are the agents of the state in that design. They might sympathize with you, they might even personally feel you were in the right in a DGU, but they aren’t going to be your friend on the witness stand.

  15. avatar MD Matt says:

    Title should be “gun owner” not owners…because grammar.

  16. avatar Mike Carbine says:

    How bout the new ones or older less known?
    Red Flag ex-GFs, Wives & their friends&family, even coworkers in some states.

    Individuals “indicted” on charges for offenses that carry a minimum 1-year prison sentence

    Like a second DUI, still a misdemeanor but now you are a “prohibited person” for the rest of your life. Think before you drink people.

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