The 2nd Amendment is the foundation of our right to self-defense. It’s a right to “…keep and bear arms…” for personal defense against criminal activity and an abusive government. There were criminals back in the late 1700’s, when the original amendments to the U.S. Constitutional were created, and our founding fathers realized there would continue to be criminals in a future America. This is why they gave us the gun as the ultimate equalizer to defend our lives as well as the lives of our families and those in our communities.
Remember for a hundred years or so after our Country gained its independence, there was no law enforcement between cities or States. Cities and townships had Marshalls to protect the citizens and enforce the laws within those individual jurisdictions. Later in our Country’s history, County Sheriffs were utilized to protect the citizens and enforce the laws in the Counties outside the cities and townships, but they had to cover hundreds of square miles of jurisdiction with just a few men, so they could only react to crime. This meant the citizens had to protect themselves with firearms. Eventually, Territorial Federal Marshals were utilized to protect citizens and enforce the laws in western Territories, but they too had to cover thousands of square miles of jurisdiction with just a few men, so they had to react to crime as well. This meant citizens had to protect themselves with firearms.
Currently in our Country there is still far more criminal activity than law enforcement personnel, so law enforcement still only reacts to crime. This means citizens still need to protect themselves with firearms. This is why you often hear, when a crime is happening to you in seconds, a cop is always minutes away. Many States adopted a “Castle Doctrine” Statute; however, these Statutes maybe the same in name but not in legal description, and therein lies the problem when it comes to defense of life and property. These Statutes only remove the duty of an individual to retreat before using deadly force. Removal of this duty everywhere establishes what has come to be known as a “Stand Your Ground Castle Doctrine”. This means if you find yourself in a situation which creates a reasonable belief that you or somebody else is in an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury, you can use deadly force to stop the imminent threat.
Not every “Castle Doctrine” Statute is a “Stand Your Ground Castle Doctrine”. Missouri’s “Castle Doctrine” only removes the duty to retreat from a “dwelling”, “residence”, “vehicle” or “private property that is owned or leased by that individual”. Everywhere else Missourians still have a duty to retreat, if possible, before they use deadly force.
Contrary to popular belief the “Castle Doctrine” does not give you the right to shoot somebody for simply coming into your home. It only removes the legal duty to retreat if possible. Many States require retreating before using deadly force to avoid taking a life, but these States do not mandate retreating in every possible situation. If you can retreat which prevents you from being injured and at the same time you avoid be forced to injury the criminal, the law believes this is the first option. If you live in a State with a “Stand Your Ground Castle Doctrine” or you cannot reasonable retreat, this means you can confront a criminal. If they escalate their actions and cause you a reasonable belief they are putting you or somebody else in an imminent risk of death or serious physical injury, you can then u se deadly force. Before you can use deadly force you must have both, the right to stand your ground and a reasonable belief of an imminent threat of death serious physical injury. This holds true inside and outside the home.
Furthermore, the attacker(s) do not have to possess a weapon, before you can legally use deadly force. I know of no Statute which specifically mandates your attacker(s) must have a weapon before you can use deadly force. And, once deadly force is justified there is no duty to give a verbal warning, fire a warning shot or shoot to wound. There is no Statute (that I am aware of) which mandates or limits the number of rounds which can be used to stop an attacker(s). As long as there is a justified deadly force threat, you can use and continue to use deadly force. Let’s take a moment to reiterate; once the threat has been stopped, your use of deadly force must stop. The legal justification for the use of deadly force is focused on stopping the threat not killing the attacker(s).
However no “Castle Doctrine” gives you the blanket legal authority to use deadly force to protect property. In general the law looks at human life as having more value than any property. Property can always be replaced, but a human life can never be replaced.
Many people hear this and quickly say, “So this means if somebody breaks into my house and starts running out the front door with my TV, I can’t do anything to stop them”? The answer is yes and no. In this scenario you can’t use deadly force to protect property, but you can use physical force to protect property. This means you can grab your TV and pull it away from the thief. If he/she escalates the situation, for example they pull a knife and threaten you with it, the individual has placed you in and imminent threat of death or serious physical injury, so you can, at that point in time, use deadly force in defense of your life. Once the thief has escalated his or her actions, as described in this particular scenario, you are not using deadly force to protect your TV; you are now using deadly force to protect your life.
Now let’s try to clarify possible confusion with a few more examples. When a hunter goes out after his/her prey, their legal objective is to kill the prey. If they shoot the prey but only wound it, so it takes off running, the hunter will track it down and use deadly force to kill it. When a victim uses justified deadly force, their legal objective is NOT to kill someone, it is to stop the imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to themselves or another. Let’s make it very simple. If someone breaks into your house at three o’clock in the morning, and they have a knife in their hand, standing twenty feet away, and they start walking towards you yelling, “I’m going to kill you”. This is a legally justified deadly force situation, so you fire your gun. The first shot hits the attacker in the chest. He falls backwards, hits his head on the floor and is knocked unconscious, so the knife falls out of his hand. He is laying there on your floor wounded. He is not dead but the imminent threat has been eliminated, so you can’t walk up to him/her and shoot the wounded attacker(s) like the hunter shoots their wounded prey. This is the difference between shooting to kill and shooting to stop the threat. Once the threat has been eliminated the use of deadly force is no longer legally justified. If the thief/attacker happens to die, because of your actions to stop the imminent threat, your actions are justified and not criminal. Here are some more practical examples. If this same thief/attacker dropped the knife and starts to run away, before you can use deadly force; deadly force is no longer justify, because the imminent threat is gone. If you draw a firearm and attempt to hold the attacker at gunpoint until authorities arrived, and the attacker runs away, deadly force is no longer justified, because the imminent threat is no longer present.
When the law justifies the use of deadly force, it justifies the use of force up to and including deadly force. You can choose to use less than deadly force, even though deadly force is justified. For example somebody could break into your home with a knife in their hand, and as they start to move towards you yelling, “I’m going to kill you”, you could choose to use pepper spray or a “Taser” to stop the imminent threat, even though deadly forces was justified in this particular scenario.
To make things even more complicated Texas does have a separate Statute from their “Stand Your Ground Castle Doctrine”, in which it justifies the use of deadly force against an individual(s) from stealing property: Texas Statutes – Section 9.41: DEADLY FORCE TO PROTECT PROPERTY SUBCHAPTER D. PROTECTION OF PROPERTY Sec. 9.41. PROTECTION OF ONE’S OWN PROPERTY. (a) A person in lawful possession of land or tangible, movable property is justified in using force against another when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on the land or unlawful interference with the property. (b) A person unlawfully dispossessed of land or tangible, movable property by another is justified in using force against the other when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to reenter the land or recover the property if the actor uses the force immediately or in fresh pursuit after the dispossession and: (1) the actor reasonably believes the other had no claim of right when he dispossessed the actor; or (2) the other accomplished the dispossession by using force, threat, or fraud against the actor.
Acts 1973, 63rd Leg., p. 883, ch. 399, Sec. 1, eff. Jan. 1, 1974. Amended by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 900, Sec. 1.01, eff. Sept. 1, 1994.
Texas Statutes – Section 9.42: DEADLY FORCE TO PROTECT PROPERTY A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect land or tangible, movable property: (1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.41; and (2) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary: (A) to prevent the other’s imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime; or (B) to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property; and (3) he reasonably believes that: (A) the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means; or (B) the use of force other than deadly force to protect or recover the land or property would expose the actor or another to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury. Acts 1973, 63rd Leg., p. 883, ch. 399, Sec. 1, eff. Jan. 1, 1974. Amended by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 900, Sec. 1.01, eff. Sept. 1, 1994.
Texas is the exception to the rule, when it comes to the justified use of deadly force to protect property. This is why you must always check with your State’s Attorney General’s Office for a clarification of justified or unjustified use of deadly force in defense of life or property. That’s right, check with your State’s Attorney General’s Office not your local law enforcement agency. Get the correct information from a licensed attorney working for your State’s Attorney General’s Office not from a usually far less trained and educated police officer or deputy sheriff. The attorney will have a clear and more in-depth understanding of these topics, so they will be able to answer your questions and give relevant, if not real world, examples for better clarification.
The 2nd Amendment is the foundation of our right to self-defense, because our Countries’ founding fathers knew law enforcement would always be reactive, not proactive, when it comes to crime. The “Castle Doctrine” only removes the legal duty to retreat in a justified deadly force situation, and it DOES NOT give you the blanket legal authority to use deadly force to protect life or property. Don’t rely on folk lore when it comes to the application of deadly force. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and it is definitely not a legal defense when it comes to the use of deadly force. Self-defense is only justified, when it is focused on stopping an imminent threat, and the specific details describing justified deadly force and a State’s “Castle Doctrine” may vary slightly from State to State. This is why it is critically important to research and understand clearly the laws relating to the use of deadly force in your residential State as well as any State you might travel through. Remember, your life as well as your freedom and financial livelihood depends on the justified use of deadly force.