Self defense is an instinct, there’s no arguing that, every animal will defend themselves and their loved ones to the best of their abilities, humans are no different. Attempting to limit a person’s rights to defend themselves and or their loved ones is illogical and cruel. For reference, I’ve expressed my advocacy of strong self defense laws here. That being said, here are self defense laws explained in a way that clears all misconceptions.
There are 5 reasonable conditions that must be met in order for a person to act in self defense. The first condition is that you can’t be doing anything illegal when defending yourself. The second condition is that you can’t be an instigator(one who provokes). The third condition is that you must truly believe that you and or your loved ones are in danger in order to act in self defense. The 4th condition is that you can’t shoot warning shots, you can face charges for using a gun irresponsibly. And lastly, you must ensure that you only use the necessary amount of force, not excessive force. Once you’ve manage to incapacitate, subdue or force an assailant(s) to yield or flee, You’ve used necessary amount of force to neutralize the threats. After that, you need to call the police for further assistance.
Hypothetical scenario 1: Person 1 has issues with one of their neighbors, so person 1 breaks their neighbor’s car windows. The neighbor(person 2) comes out to investigate. Person 1 cannot justifiably defend themselves against person 2 because person 1 did something illegal.
Hypothetical Scenario 2: An instigator starts to berate someone in a restaurant for no reason, the instigator goes to great lengths to provoke the victim by saying all sorts of demeaning remarks. Eventually the person on receiving end has enough and shoves the instigator to the ground. The instigator has no right to defend him or herself, because that person provoked an angry response.
Hypothetical Scenario 3: A person dressed in a hoody and faded baggy jeans is walking around the neighborhood and a resident is suspicious of that individual. The resident cannot go outside and attack the person just because they look suspicious. That’s profiling and it’s not a valid excuse to uphold a self defense law because the hooded individual did nothing to show that he or she posed a threat. The best thing the resident can do is take a picture of the suspicious individual and report it to the police.
Hypothetical Scenario 4: You are putting your groceries in your car and you notice a hooded individual rapidly approaching you. You notice the hooded individual is about to pull out a weapon but you’re quicker and you draw your pepper spray and spray the hooded individual. You tackle the stunned assailant to ground and beat him or her into submission. The police arrive and see that the assailant is a wanted felon. Under these circumstances your actions would be justifiable.
2. Every US state recognizes the right to defend oneself and loved ones
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not as simple as saying that only conservative states allow self defense, while liberal states don’t. In reality all 50 states allow its residents to act in self defense in some way under valid circumstances. There’s only two parts of the US that severely restrict it’s citizens when it comes to self defense, they are Vermont(State) and Washington D.C(Capital) since, what is considered self defense in these two areas is subjective, neither of these two areas have stand your ground or a castle doctrine and they both have hefty restrictions when it comes to self defense equipment.
3. Duty to retreat
The law requires citizens to distance themselves from any potential conflict if possible. Should a person have the misfortune of being in a situation where retreating is not an option, then the person has the right to fight back and do whatever they can to protect themselves and or their loved ones. In other words, self defense is only meant to be last resort under the “duty to retreat” law. Usually, liberal states have this law instead of a stand your ground law.
Duty to retreat scenario 1: You are walking in a busy street and you notice someone that’s been stalking you for a couple blocks. Under the “duty to retreat” law, you are required to flee and report the incident to the police, you are not allowed to approach the stalker to incapacitate him/her. Take pictures of your stalker for evidence if you must but that’s about it.
Duty to retreat scenario 2: You are in a public restroom and a person pulls a knife on you. The assailant is blocking the door to exit the restroom, so you have no choice but to grapple with the assailant. You manage to get the upper hand and incapacitate the assailant. Under the duty to retreat law, your actions were justified because you couldn’t retreat.
4. Castle doctrine
This law basically allows you to defend yourself, your loved ones and your property should a person(s) break into your home. Most states have implemented this law.
Hypothetical castle doctrine scenario 1: Two home invaders break into your home, you manage to incapacitate them. You must call the police so they can deal with the incapacitated home invaders and so you can clarify what happened. Video footage, audio recordings, eye witnesses and pictures can help you justify your actions.
Hypothetical Castle doctrine scenario 2: Two home invaders break into your home, they see you are armed with a 12 gauge shotgun, so they flee. Under the castle doctrine law you are not allowed to chase them down because they are no longer a threat. If you chase down the assailants, you can face charges for taking part in vigilantism.
5. Stand your ground
Ah yes, the most controversial self defense law. Under this law, a person has the right to use Self defense as their first option when they are under threat. Many states, have passed a stand your ground law. But it has come under scrutiny from the liberal crowd due to some people misusing this law. The common misconception of this law is that it’s synonymous with lethal force. In reality, Stand your ground can also mean non lethal force.
1.) hypothetical Stand your ground scenario 1: You are in line to place an order at your local McDonald’s, someone cuts in front of you and gives you a “What are you going to do about it?” look. You cannot uphold the stand your ground law, because the person is simply being a rude douchebag, rather than posing a threat.
2.) hypothetical Stand your ground scenario 2: You are wearing a “Make America great again” hat at a restaurant. And some self entitled brat comes up to you and starts berating you because of your hat. Unless the individual starts getting physical, you cannot uphold the stand your ground law. Instead, you can tell the individual to stop otherwise you’ll have the individual expelled from the premises.
3.) hypothetical Stand your ground scenario 3: Same as scenario above but instead of just berating you, the individual starts getting physically aggressive. You can now legally defend yourself. You stand up and you lay out the aggressor. The police arrive and the eyewitnesses will most likely take your side unless they share the same sentiment as the aggressor, in which case the security footage and any footage taken from bystanders is your best support.
Stand your ground scenario 4: While you are out for a jog, some hooded masked individual approaches you and pulls a knife on you. You draw your taser and incapacitate the masked assailant, you justifiably stood your ground. When the police arrive, they’ll see a incapacitated hooded individual with a knife by his side, that’s enough evidence to show that you were only acting in self defense.
6. Imperfect self defense
Under this law, a person who acted in self defense can mitigate a potential legal punishment if they truly believe they were justified in using deadly force to defend themselves even though the court thinks otherwise.
Hypothetical Imperfect self defense scenario 1: A person is watering their front lawn and two hooded individuals aggressively approach the person. The person, fearing for his or her life, draws a gun and incapacitates both suspects by discharging ordinance. The person may be able to plead impartial self defense if the court doesn’t recognize it as affirmative defense.
Hypothetical imperfect self defense scenario 2: A person is driving home from work late at night, as the person drives through a quiet road, he or she comes across a large group of hooded individuals who are armed with baseball bats and other improvised weaponry. The group surrounds the car. The person fears for his or her safety and steps on the pedal, plowing through those suspicious hooded individuals. Depending on the court, the person may be able to justify their actions and not face any charges. But if the court is morally corrupt and decides to still charge the person. The person may still be able to plead impartial self defense to mitigate the charges.
7. Citizen’s arrest
Should a lawbreaker get apprehended by Good Samaritans, the lawbreakers will be placed under citizen’s arrest. Citizen’s arrest involves detaining a law breaker on spot until the police arrive. Most cases of citizens arrest occur in places where multiple eyewitness can confirm that apprehended individual was indeed breaking the law. Like a busy street, a restaurant, a mall, the beach etc. Under citizens arrest, the apprehended suspect can’t be moved from the area he or she was apprehended in, because that’s considered kidnapping and the person who detained the suspect can face serious charges for that. There also has to be sufficient valid evidence of the suspect committing a crime. Like video footage and plenty of eyewitnesses. You can’t detain someone just because you don’t like the person.
Hypothetical Citizen’s arrest scenario 1: You are at a shopping mall in California and two individuals dressed in white scrubs approach you and claim that they are orderlies from a local psych ward who are there to take you in. But you are automatically suspicious of them because there’s no reason for them to take you in, so you run from them. Eventually you run into a dead end with nowhere else to go. The two “orderlies” approach hastily, so you grab a nearby heavy pipe and you knock one of the “orderlies” unconscious with it. The other orderly attempts to intervene but you tackle the second orderly to the ground and force the orderly to yield. You place both subdued orderlies in “citizens arrest.” The police arrive and take both unconscious “orderlies” into custody and find out that the local psych ward they came from is corrupt. So the police raid the psych ward/prison and arrest all the staff. Under these circumstances you properly followed the duty to retreat law of California, resorted to self defense as a last resort, you used citizens arrest and for extra precaution you might be able to plead the 8th amendment. Under these circumstances, you most likely won’t face any charges. In fact, you may get an award from the city mayor for helping expose corruption at the psych ward/prison.
Hypothetical Citizen’s arrest scenario 2: You are at a crowded beach and some drunk person starts attacking random people. A bunch of people tackle the drunk person and restrain the person. Someone calls the police and the police arrive to take the drunk person into custody. That’s a valid case of citizens arrest.
8. Concealed carry
Some states allow this type of firearm carry. It involves carrying a pistol that is hidden from view. You need a permit for concealed carry and in some states like California it’s very difficult to obtain a concealed carry permit. It’s also worth noting that even in states that are lenient on concealed carry, some places may prohibit concealed carry.
9. Open carry
The opposite of concealed carry. With this law, your firearms are visible to people around you. Plus for obvious reasons, this law allows you to carry larger weapons. And yes, you obviously need a permit for this and not every state allows open carry.
10. Self defense equipment
What I mean by this, are self defense weapons that aren’t guns, such as fist weapons, tasers, pepper spray, nightsticks, saps, tactical pens, knives, cords, knives etc. These kinds of weapons are easier to obtain since they don’t require licenses like guns do and they are usually inexpensive. But even so, certain types of self defense equipment are prohibited in certain states.
Self defense equipment in California: Knuckle dusters, saps and nightsticks are illegal to own in California but tactical pens, tasers and pepper spray can still be purchased and owned legally.
Self defense equipment in Indiana: On the contrary, Indiana is more lax when it comes to self defense weaponry. Knuckle dusters, nightsticks, spring loaded switch blades, pepper spray, tasers and tactical pens are all legal to own Indiana. But Shuriken are illegal to own.
11. Defense of others/Good Samaritan
Self defense laws also apply to defending someone else. Whether they be a loved one, a friend or even a complete stranger who are in danger. Many states like Arizona allow you to defend others. There was even a case where a family in Louisiana rescued their abducted daughter and used deadly force against the abductor. The family faced no punishment because their actions where justified under Louisiana law.
Hypothetical Scenario 1: You are walking down the street and you hear a couple arguing. You do not have the right or obligation to interfere because nobody is in danger. An argument does not always mean that someone is in danger.
Hypothetical scenario 2: You are walking down the street and you see a group of masked individuals jump out of a van and attack someone. You happen to have a gun on you, so you incapacitate one of the assailants, while the rest flee. In many cases, you’ll be considered a Good Samaritan and no charges will be pressed against you. Especially if the person you helped, speaks on your behalf.
Hypothetical scenario 3: The parents of a kid are relaxing at a park bench while their son plays at the playground. A masked individual attempts to abduct the kid but the father quickly races to his son’s aid and beats the abductor into unconsciousness. The father justifiably acted in defense of a loved one, the father won’t face any charges.
12. Mutual combat
Mutual combat isn’t self defense but it’s still worth mentioning here. Contrary to popular belief, one on one brawling isn’t actually illegal anywhere in the US, even the most liberal states allow it. The reasons why people get arrested for brawling is because they are disturbing the peace, taking part in disorderly conduct, damaging property and or hurting bystanders. Not because they fought. However, consent is very important. Both fighters have to consent to the fight, both fighters have agree to not press charges on each other, no weapons are allowed and the brawl has to take place in a area where property or bystanders can’t get hurt. If all these conditions are met, then no legal action can be taken against the two individuals for brawling. The brawl goes until one person gets knocked out, yields or if both fighters just decide to stop fighting. Regardless of any size differences, both individuals can still fight without facing potential charges.
Hypothetical mutual combat scenario 1: You are at a bar and a random person starts berating you for no reason. You tell the person to stop but the person won’t stop. Eventually the individual says “Let’s take it outside”. And you agree. So you both go the empty parking lot in the back of the bar and start brawling, eventually you get the upper hand and the person yields. The fight ends and both of you shake hands. That’s mutual combat, both of you agreed to a fight in a area where no property can get damaged or innocent bystanders could get hurt. Neither of you can get in trouble from the law.
Hypothetical mutual combat scenario 2: You are in college, you and another student just can’t stand each other. So one day you both agree to meet at the house of a mutual acquaintance who is okay with you two brawling in the backyard. You both show up, go to the backyard and start brawling. The fight goes on for a couple minutes until you land a good hook, knocking out the other student. After the student awakes, you both shake hands and agree to make peace. This is another example of mutual combat, you both agreed to brawl at a place where no property could get damaged or innocent bystanders could get hurt.
Certain states like Washington have made accommodations for people who wish to engage in Mutual combat. Should two individuals agree to a fight, the police can referee the fight itself. Yes you read that right, a police officer in Washington can legally referee a brawl between two people. Just like the one where “real life superhero” Phoenix Jones was in.
Closing and disclaimer: Overall, strong Self defense rights and liberties are a necessity. While most states allow people to defend themselves and or their loved ones. Corrupt and or biased members of the law may try to twist the story around to make it seem as if the person who acted in self defense is at fault. Which is why good lawyers, sufficient evidence, knowing what to say and not using excessive force are necessary for a person to not get punished just for defending themselves and or their loved ones.
As a disclaimer, the purpose of self defense is to ensure the survival/safety of yourself and your loved ones. Self defense is not meant to be used as a form of retaliation/revenge, nor is it meant to be used as a form of vigilantism.