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[ED: Our friends at U.S. LawShield produced this FAQ on issues surrounding self defense and they’ve agreed to let us share it here.]

Many people have questions when they first become interested in learning self-defense. In this guide, we’ll address some of the most common self-defense questions people have and explore some things that are not always as obvious to someone just starting to research how to take responsibility for their own personal safety.

It’s important to remember that personal protection and the steps to start building a robust self-defense practice will be specific to the individual. It’s also important to remember that while it is easy to focus on weapons, tools, and gear, use of force laws should probably be the first concern anyone has when they begin to ask questions and learn about personal protection.

What Is Self-Defense?

Self-defense is the fundamental human right that allows for the use of physical force to protect oneself from unlawful injury by another. Many different situations can fall under the umbrella of self-defense, and not every violent or potentially violent encounter is, or needs to be, solved with a weapon.

While self-defense is a basic human right, it’s crucial to know the rules that govern when someone is legally justified in defending themselves that are spelled out in self-defense laws.

Is Self-Defense Legal?

Yes, if specific criteria are met, self-defense is perfectly legal. In legal terms, self-defense is what’s known as an affirmative defense—a defense where the defendant (the defender in this instance) introduces evidence that, if found to be credible, justifies the defender’s actions for what would otherwise be an illegal act.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the use of force laws of your state, as there can be many subtle differences in what the self-defender must do to have a valid claim of self-defense.

What Is Considered Self-Defense?

Self-defense is any level of physical force that you use to prevent force from being used against you. To make a successful claim of self-defense, several criteria must be met.

1) You should reasonably believe that the person you use force against must be able to cause bodily harm to you, a concept known as “ability.”
2) You should reasonably believe the person is able to cause bodily harm to you when the incident is occurring, a concept known as “opportunity.”
3) You must be in reasonable fear that the person you are using force against intends to use both their ability and opportunity to cause you bodily harm, right now, a concept known as “immediacy.”
4) Finally, you must not have acted in any way that would invalidate your claim of self-defense, such as attempting to bait someone into an encounter with the purpose of using force against them.

It is VERY important to keep in mind that you may not respond to an attack with lethal force unless you can reasonably articulate that the attacker has the ability and opportunity to cause you death or great bodily harm during the attack. If the attacker possesses only the ability and opportunity to cause you the lesser “bodily harm,” you MUST utilize a proportional level of force.

Can You Go to Jail if You Defend Yourself?

Yes. If your claim of self-defense is found to be invalid or unreasonable, you can absolutely be convicted and sentenced to jail or prison.

Keep in mind that using physical force against someone else is generally illegal, and a claim of self-defense that’s found to be valid protects the defender from the consequences of what would otherwise be a criminal act.

police arrest cuffs handcuffs

It’s also important to remember that if you are involved in any defensive encounter where you use any level of force against someone else, there will be some form of legal process following the incident. This process generally begins with a police investigation and arrest, which is why many people interested in personal protection seek some form of self-defense insurance to help cover the legal fees associated with defending themselves.

Can You Kill Someone to Defend Yourself?

Yes. A valid claim of self-defense will protect you from any criminal penalty that would result from the death of the person attacking them so long as the defender acted reasonably, proportionally, and in compliance with all applicable laws. “Proportionally” means the person defending themselves must use only the level of force necessary to stop the imminent threat against them, and no more.

Many of the self-defense tools in everyday use, especially a handgun or knife, have the potential to kill or seriously harm the person attacking the defender. Oftentimes, death is the unfortunate result of the force needed to stop someone who is actively attacking another person, but it is never the intended outcome.

The defender must always use only the force necessary to stop the imminent threat and must never actively seek to kill someone else. Seeking to kill someone — even if they are attacking you — can be used by a prosecutor to show malice, which could weaken or defeat the defender’s claim of self-defense.

What Is the Best Handgun to Buy?

Selecting any firearm is a highly personal choice, and there are many factors to consider. A person who intends to carry a handgun every day may be looking for different features and options than the person who wants a firearm primarily to keep in the home. If your primary interest is carrying a firearm on your person every day, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Uncommon handguns are usually uncommon for a reason. Make sure to check the aftermarket support available for any pistol you are considering purchasing. This can include anything from the holsters and sights that are available to the simple things like magazines or replacement parts on the market. It’s difficult to carry a gun that doesn’t have any quality holsters available for it due to its obscurity.

gun store handgun display

A handgun needs to fit your hand. A common mistake people make when they talk about fitting a pistol to their hand is thinking of “fit” in terms of “comfort.” To be clear, you don’t want a handgun to be uncomfortable in the hand. It’s important to remember, though, that a handgun can be comfortable in the hand, but still be sized in such a way that you won’t be able to reach the trigger fully.

A general rule of thumb when checking fit is that you need to at least be able to place the first joint of your index finger on the face of the trigger when you hold the handgun in a normal firing grip, whether or not that’s the part of your finger you would actually use when shooting. If you find you have to rotate your hand around the handgun to get to the trigger, it probably doesn’t fit you.

Keep in mind when selecting a handgun that shot placement will be what wins most defensive encounters. Being able to place a “less effective” round exactly where you intend it is always better than a near miss with a “more effective” round.

While it’s nice to have a handgun that’s chambered in a popular service caliber loaded with quality defensive ammo, it’s more important to worry about how you can perform with your chosen handgun than what caliber you’re carrying.

The last thing to keep in mind when selecting a handgun for self-defense is that, if you intend to carry it, the handgun you select must be one that you can comfortably carry with you wherever it’s legal for you to do so. While it is true that the first rule of a gunfight is “Don’t get into a gunfight,” the second rule is equally important: “Have a gun.”

Make sure that, if you are selecting a gun with the intention of carrying it as part of your everyday life, you select one that you will be able to comfortably conceal in a wide range of environments and activities. While many people conceal a full-size handgun on a regular basis, not everyone will have the necessary physical real estate on their body to be able to do that.


This article was written by U.S. LawShield and is reprinted here with permission. 

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  1. “Being able to place a ‘less effective’ round exactly where you intend it is always better than a near miss with a “more effective” round.”

    like cooper said, the purpose of shooting is to hit the target.

  2. Decent article. Very basic and not frightening to newbies…even covers mindset.

    BTW…I would like to have that rack of revolvers from the illustration photo for Christmas….Santa?

  3. “Oftentimes, death is the unfortunate result of the force needed to stop someone who is actively attacking another person, but it is never the intended outcome.”

    ^^Exactly this.^^

    Last week, the site Ammoland posted an article in support of the infamous “Mozambique” method (two to the chest, one to the head) as an optimum method of ensuring an end to an attack against you. I posted my comment(s) stating that our intent must always be to stop the threat, never to kill. If our attacker dies as a result of necessary actions taken to stop that threat, then so be it. But training in a manner that ensures death is a surefire ticket for your arrest and prison time. As you might imagine, I was met with opposition by those who believe the opposite.

    • Finding your attacker with 2 rounds center mass and a third in the head could prove irksome to explain to a jury. They might argue (successfully, in court) you intended to ‘finish him off’, and get you convicted of murder… 🙁

      • Geoff, if he’s still standing on his hind legs fighting you are finishing him off. That’s the point of the drill.

    • Haz, I don’t know why the Mozambique drill would be considered infamous, but it is well known. Although, today the politically correct term is “failure to stop drill.” When, I learned it you fired two center mass, access (antagonist still standing/armed?), then a head shot as needed. Of course, if you still have incoming after two to the chest the assessment is over.

      • Correct. Two to the thoracic. Pause if necessary to allow OODA, but only enough as necessary. If the imminent deadly threat still exists and the third shot to the ocular/head is necessary, take it and be confident of your decision during ensuing conversations with your attorney and/or a Court.

        That slight pause – if the situation allows it, of course – may be the deciding factor a deliberating jury (or zealous D.A.) needs to decide to acquit you of murder.

  4. *Go to the range and practice*
    Don’t wait till you are being attacked before you fire the first round through your gun. Your going to spend money on ammo doing this but it is important not only for making sure the gun functions safely but also so you know YOU function safely and proficiently with it. Letting it sit in a closet and rust turns it into a complete waste.

  5. To put it very simply, an aremed/deadly force response should be the absolute last resort.
    \ If deadly force is deemed to be needed, you only use force to stop the threat. The goal is stopping the assault, not to terminate the attacker.
    Tell any police officer/investigator you will be happy to cooperate with their investigation and answer their questions. But, you want your attorney there for any questioning and wish to consult with said attorney before answering and questions. Likely you will be arrested unless there is clear evidence you had no other choice than use of deadly force. Good reason for both dash cams in your vehicle, and body cams for your person.
    As for what is a good choice of weapon needs to be answered with a couple of questions. The first of which should be, Are you sure you can use deadly force if needs be? And push that question severl times before deciding to carry a weapon. It is a major difference between shooting paper on the gun range, and shooting, potentially killing taking a life. Also ask if the potential gun owner will be able to take on the responsibility of doing just that.
    No one but the potential gun buyer can answer those questions, and must do so to themselves.
    Next, would be advising any first time gun buyer to test out several sizes, calibers and types of weapon. While a S&W 500 is comfortable for my big hands and is not overwhelming to shoot for me, I would not recomend it to a first time shooter. This is why many people new to shooting don’t get the practice they need, nor train as often as they should. Someone told them a particular gun was a man stopper, or would end a fight instantly, but, didn’t explain a cannon you’re afraid to shoot is nothing but a weight to hold down a shelf in the safe.
    Even if it not a requirement in your state, get some training from a real expert/trainer. Not just tag along to the range with cousin Barney who thinks he’s the next Arnold or Rambo. Do some research into available classes on safety and legal matters as well as training in the care, feeding and use of a firearm.

  6. The fact is that most persons carrying a sidearm for ‘personal protection’ would be dead before they could ever use it and all the infantile arguments about which, why, when and calibre, MV etc. are total crap.
    If the bad guy stick’s a piece in your face hands up and hand over the bloody wallet. And make totally sure that’s EXACTLY what you intend. You can replace you wallet but you cannot replace your life.
    That weapon in the hands of the bad guy is there for a single purpose, to KILL you at the slightest excuse DO NOT GIVE THE BAD GUY THAT EXCUSE.

    • You might go and change your panties seeing as how you wet yourself over the mere thought.

      The only reason the last one that assaulted me is still alive is he screamed loud enough for mercy that the entire block heard him, which puts a legal crimp on your options.

      Now quit acting like a bitch. Oh that’s right, it’s not an act, is it?
      FkUrKinder&[email protected]

    • There is a time and place for that.

      Have you ever wondered how many lives that person took before he crossed paths with you? How many they will take afterward, regardless of what you do?

  7. It is a well written article but as others here have pointed out, it is very basic. It is hard to cover with any degree of thoroughness such a simple yet complicated subject.

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