With recent events out of Ferguson Missouri I've noticed several questions asking what people think about it... What I see in many answers is truly disturbing.
It is abundantly clear that many people on GAG know virtually nothing about lawful self-defense, I feel as a member of the community, and a very senior one at that, it is my responsibility to share my knowledge to help educate those in need.
So first, what authority do I have to be telling people about lawful self-defense? For one, I am a firearms instructor certified by the NRA, now I'm sure more than one person just went "ugh, NRA, evil, grrr" but before you dismiss everything I say from this point on consider this: In most states, including some very liberal ones like Massachusetts, my NRA certification gives me the authority to sign you off to apply for a license to carry a concealed firearm. In other words, these states have entrusted me to judge whether you are competent enough to carry a gun.
I am a student of Rob Pincus, a world renowned firearms instructor who works with police departments all around the world. I have also received tips from various American Police, Special Forces, IDF soldiers and even an active-duty Spetsnaz. I am very confident in my level of knowledge in this area, I'll leave it to you to decide if my credentials are satisfactory.
I will cover as much as reasonably possible, but understand it is impossible to go over every possible scenario, so instead I will cover the basics that go for everything. Remember that every individual case has its own unique details, but once you're made aware of the standards of lawful self-defense, things should, generally speaking, become much easier to form an appropriate opinion on.
First and foremost, it is important to know what deadly force is. Deadly force is doing something that has strong potential to be lethal; examples include but are not limited to shooting someone, stabbing someone and hitting someone with a car. The person on the receiving end of deadly force does not necessarily need to die from it, just doing something that could kill them is deadly force in the eyes of the law. That means shooting someone in the leg/foot/arm/hand/somewhere other than center mass, even missing the person completely is considered using deadly force, there are no exceptions, if you shoot at someone you are using deadly force, period.
When can deadly force be used? The simple answer is when you're in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, but how is that determined? There are three pieces to that puzzle: ability, opportunity and intent, your attacker must have all three for you to be justified in using deadly force.
Can your attacker actually kill you? Maybe. Do they have a weapon? Are they much bigger than you? Is there more than one of them? Are you in a compromised position? Something else? If two men, each six foot six, built like Ronnie Coleman and each had a gun and they're going after the skinny, five foot nothing woman trying to reach for something in the back of her trunk, it seems like a pretty safe bet that these two men have the ability to kill this woman.
Is your attacker actually within striking distance? If they are armed with something other than a gun, are they close to you? If they have a gun do they have a somewhat clear shot at you? Let me recreate an example that was articulated to me in a class a few years ago: The instructor stood in one corner of the room and pulled out a knife, then called out to the student who was furthest away from him, saying he was going to kill him with the knife and then asking if the student would be justified in shooting the instructor, the short answer is a resounding NO. The instructor was too far away, there were half a dozen tables and two dozen people in between them, there is no possible way to articulate that the instructor was an imminent threat to the student and thus deadly force is not justified.
Remember:There are a lot of ways an attacker can create opportunity, but at the end of the day it all boils down to can they, with the abilities they have, kill you?
Is your attacker actually trying to kill you? This one can be hard, you can't read their mind and if they survive the encounter it's highly unlikely they'll admit to trying to kill you. Is he on the other side of a door kicking it while yelling that he's going to kill you? Did he get the drop on you and is now on top of you and hitting you? Intent is rarely known for sure, this is where articulation comes into play, you need to reasonably believe your attacker is trying to kill you or hurt you very badly, which brings me to the next point...
We know what deadly force is and we know what the three factors that must be present for the use of it are, but what happens after? What happens when the Police ask you what happened?
The truth is always the best policy if you've acted appropriately. The Police are going to ask you what happened thirty times in thirty-five different ways, you MUST stay consistent in your story, if you change it, even a little bit, you've almost certainly sunk yourself. If a naked man came at you with a knife screaming gibberish, that's what you tell them, those eleven words fill the three holes that need to be filled, ability (he had a knife) opportunity (he was running at you) and intent (screaming gibberish). In this example, a naked man screaming gibberish is clearly not in their right mind, and he can easily be dangerous, when the naked man picks up a knife and starts running at you, it is reasonable to believe that since they are not in their right mind and they are running at you, that they intend to try and hurt/kill you, and since they have a knife it wouldn't be hard for them to do it.
The American criminal justice system is designed around the belief that it is better to let one hundred guilty men go free than it is to imprison even one who is innocent. It works off this belief for the simple reason that if you are wrongfully accused, you don't want to go to jail. This can create a feeling that the suspects get more rights than the victims, and that is not an inaccurate feeling, but the next time you see someone go free when you think they shouldn't, ask yourself if it was you, and you know you don't do horrible things, wouldn't you want the system to be set up this way? It is called reasonable doubt, evidence can tell more than one story, if you are being accused of murdering someone when you acted in self-defense, there is a way to tell the story so that the evidence can be interpreted as such. At that point investigators and onlookers are left with at least two possible explanations that the evidence supports, as such there is reasonable doubt, tie goes to the runner, you walk.
What does this mean for Michael Brown and Darren Wilson? It means Darren Wilson walks, multiple eyewitness accounts that contradict each other, a believable story from Wilson that the evidence supports, reasonable doubt is overflowing in this case, there is simply no lawful way to convict Wilson with so much reasonable doubt, indicting him would have only been a massive waste of time and money only to end with the same result.
Of everything I've heard from people supporting Michael Brown, the one thing I haven't heard from any of them is how the evidence can be interpreted that he was innocent. I haven't seen anybody claim he was NOT charging Wilson or that he did NOT try to get Wilson's gun, by doing both of those things Brown made it clear that he had the ability (his size) opportunity (was charging Wilson) and intent (charging Wilson and trying to get his gun) to kill Wilson. If Michael Brown was a lot smaller than he was then things would be different, but being as big as he was it is reasonable for Wilson to believe Brown would overpower him had he allowed him to get too close. Darin Wilson is tall, but not as tall as Brown and of average build. All of these factors put together indicate that Wilson acted appropriately, as unfair as that may seem to some.
Perhaps Darren Wilson just didn't want to be another James Camp.
STAND YOUR GROUND
Stand Your Ground laws have gotten a lot of attention in the past couple years and there seems to be a very serious misunderstanding about what these laws do. Stand Your Ground laws exist partially because of overzealous prosecutors, they eliminate the ability of prosecutors to get a conviction by suggesting the victim could have got away. Another reason is if you're being attacked, do you want to be wondering if you can realistically get away? Invoking Stand Your Ground does NOT mean you no longer need to articulate the ability, opportunity and intent of your attacker, Stand Your Ground law or not, you still need to articulate these things.
Unlike Michael Brown, this IS a case where the justice system failed. I can't pinpoint exactly where, but there is absolutely no way Marissa Alexander should have been convicted, she shouldn't even have been indicted. A few years ago in New Hampshire an elderly man saw a burglar breaking into his neighbors house, the burglar fled and the man fired a single shot into the ground, this got the burglar's attention and he was arrested, along with the elderly man. After some time the elderly man was set free, he should have been arrested, charged and convicted for reckless discharge of a firearm, but given the circumstances the DA decided not to prosecute, a reasonable decision given the circumstances.
Why Marissa Alexander was not shown the same courtesy is beyond me. Rico Gray clearly demonstrated the ability, opportunity and intent to cause her serious harm or death, yet she opted to fire a warning shot instead, possibly sparing his life. To justify the conviction, the judge claimed that her actions were not consistent with someone who feared for their life. Really? Feeling the need to pull a gun in the first place seems like someone would be in fear for their life to me, granted she should have shot him, it would have been justified.
Florida has recently, despite Democrat and pro-gun control opposition, reformed their self-defense laws to prevent any future Marissa Alexander's from happening. Much like Stand Your Ground, the laws were reformed in order to prevent overzealous prosecutors and activist judges from unjustly convicting innocent people.
Injustice exists in the world, no doubt, but knowing where true injustice lies is the first step to correcting it. We as citizens need to move past this absolutist attitude of you're either with our group 100% or you're against our group 100%. Just because you believe the Michael Brown case ended mostly correctly doesn't mean you can't also believe the Marissa Alexander case did not end correctly. There is no room for opinion in law, there is fact and fiction, nothing else. Laws like Stand Your Ground exist to protect you from the injustices in the system, to oppose them while thinking the system is against you is counterproductive to say the least. It's time to stop letting Al Sharpton or Rush Limbaugh tell you what to think, do your research, educate yourself and triple-check your sources. Local laws vary not only from state to state, but even city to city, and obviously country to country, know the laws you are governed by, it is your responsibility as a citizen.
This is not meant to be legal advice, neither I nor the NRA, Rob Pincus or any of my other mentors assume responsibility for the actions of those who use any information contained in this writing.