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Being a Responsible Gun Owner – You, Your Gun, Your Home, and the Law

As a responsible gun owner, home owner and model citizen, there are some things you need to know about the law. Each state is different. In thisJudges gavel with gun and very old paper article we will consider what you need to research relative to being in a home defense situation.

First, there are a number of items for you to consider. Let’s enumerate them here:

  • Rights and procedures for purchasing a legal firearm
  • Requirements for possession
  • Laws for concealed and open carry
  • Weapon definitions, particularly, short barreled rifles, “machine guns”
  • Castle Doctrine
  • Duty to Retreat
  • Federal versus State versus City laws

First the usual small print caveat. I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. You need to be responsible for getting that advice. I am going to tell you what to look for.  Read the actual law, not the gun store guy’s opinion of it or some blog on the internet.

I would emphasize two things, one that the state, the city, and the feds can all be different.  Two, these laws change all the time. Our purpose here is to determine what laws we need to understand in order to defend ourselves legally in our home.

When we say “defend” and assume it is with a weapon, by all state laws, that is the definition of “deadly force.” Therefore, we need to think long and carefully before ever presenting a weapon and we should be sure we are within the law. Do not confuse law with common sense, logic, or rationality. Literally just showing a gun to dissuade someone from doing you harm can cost you tens of thousands of dollars and your freedom for some period of time. You need to understand the legal, ethical and moral aspects of defense that society has deemed appropriate.

You may not use deadly force unless you are facing unavoidable danger of death or grievous bodily harm. There are some basics on use of deadly force. Law enforcement is trained to look at ability, opportunity, and jeopardy in when to use deadly force.

  • Ability – the other person has it within their power to kill you or grievously harm you
  • Opportunity – the physical situation is such that the other person can use his ability against you
  • Jeopardy – that person’s actions or words cause you to believe he/she intends to use that force against you

Some person swearing at you, standing on your front lawn with a knife, while you are inside the house at the second story window does not present a deadly force opportunity.

Let’s take the same scenario, except that person is now in your living room facing you ten feet away. Different situation. Here is where knowing the law comes into play. Do you stand your ground or run as fast as you can the other direction? Whether you have a duty to retreat rather than stand and defend yourself in your own home is dependent on the laws of your area. The Castle Doctrine (a man’s home is his castle) and the duty to retreat or lack thereof, is applied legislation in some states, but may only be a case law precedent or not exist at all in others. This is indeed why you need to know the law. Consider whether the person is a trespasser or a guest. Consider whether you provoked an argument prior to the critical incident. These are all items you need to understand before considering whether you are within the law to use deadly force in your home.

I will admit that reading some state’s legal documents lets us understand that plain English is not the venue of lawyers. Hence the occasional need to enlist a lawyer to interpret what the lawyers said. Massad Ayoob’s “In the Gravest Extremeis also a classic read to put this issue into perspective.

One last piece of advice: There are some organizations out there that can help you if you should ever find yourself in a post shooting situation, plus provide pre-mishap guidance on what to do in that circumstance. The Armed Citizen’s Legal Defense Network is one of those. Very cheap insurance if you ever find yourself in that unenviable position. We all hope and assume we will never need such help, but we also assume our house will never burn down.  We buy insurance in case the unconscionable happens. Be a responsible gun owner, be a model citizen, and be prepared.

Let us know in the comments your thoughts about being a responsible gun owner and the law.

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