Making the Shoot/No-shoot Decision

Jake Buckland Self Defense

Making the Shoot/No-shoot Decision


A large number of American citizens carry concealed every day, and that number is rising all the time. I’ve personally carried for a number of years, even though it is inconvenient, especially when my pants want to fall down from the weight of my pistol and extra magazines. But I do it anyway.

Part of the reason why I carry is that we live along the border, in an area with a lot of drug trafficking. A former neighbor, who thankfully is no longer there, was apparently a drug trafficker. We lived in real danger of gang warfare breaking out right in front of our home. My wife wanted me carrying, so that in such a case, we had the ability to defend ourselves.

While self-defense laws vary from state to state, in most states citizens have the right to use deadly force in self-defense. That is usually extended to include defense of the family. In some states, that right extends to the defense of property and other people as well. It is important that each of us understand the laws for the state in which we live.

But here’s the catch – even in states which strongly support the individual’s right to defend themselves, the courts have to agree that it was self-defense after the fact. In other words, the decision that you make in a split decision could end up being deliberated upon for days or even weeks, as people analyze the tactical situation, your motives, those of your attacker, and even whether you would have been able to defend yourself without having to resort to the use of deadly force.

There is some important key terminology that we have to understand, in order to decide if we are justified in making the shoot/no-shoot decision. The first such term is “imminent danger of life and limb.” That’s actually two terms put together. Imminent danger means “right now,” as in the danger is happening now. It can’t be danger that existed a minute ago or danger that is about to manifest itself. In either of those cases, you are not justified in using deadly force.

The other term, “life and limb,” is a little easier to understand. It simply means to be at risk of death or bodily harm. While the concept is simple, determining whether you are actually at risk of life and limb can be extremely hard. What might put you at risk in one situation, wouldn’t in another. Or what might put a woman at risk of life and limb, might not be seen by the courts to put a man at the same risk. A lot depends on your physical strength and fighting ability, as compared to that of your attacker.

Put together, those two terms mean that you can only use deadly force when it is clear that you are likely to get seriously hurt or killed, if you don’t use deadly force. That’s key. If the courts don’t see it the way that you do, then you are likely to spend some jail time, just for taking the shot, even if you don’t kill them.

There’s another legal principle that fits in here, making this even more complex. It’s called the “reasonable man” theory. Connected to what we’ve already got, it basically states that a reasonable person would see that you are at imminent risk of life and limb. So, it isn’t enough that you think that you’re at imminent risk of life and limb, these theoretical “reasonable people” have to see it that way too.

Yeah, it’s complicated; and like I said, you’ve got to make a decision in a split second, which the police, the prosecutor and the courts can take as long as they want to think through and debate. So you want to make sure you make the right decision, no matter what.

Here’s the best answer I can give you for this. In 70% of the cases where someone who has a concealed carry permit draws their gun, that’s enough to stop the criminal. By and large, they don’t want to get into a shootout, both from a legal viewpoint and because they don’t want to get shot, so they will usually flee the scene, if they see that you are ready to defend yourself. I’ve done that two times, and both times the bad guys called it a day.

But, and this is very important, don’t assume that if you draw your gun, they’re going to run away. If you draw it, do so with the intent of using it. But pause, before taking that shot, to give them the opportunity to run. If you can get them to do that, you’ve won, without putting yourself at legal risk.

During that pause, watch them closely. This is their decision point. They either have to shoot or scoot, and they’ll probably telegraph their decision by the way they begin to move. If you see that they are going to scoot, you can relax; but if you see that they are going to shoot, it makes your case of self-defense more believable.

The other thing that this pause will do for you is give you the time to make sure you are ready to shoot. You can align your sights, get your nerves at least a little bit under control and then get ready to concentrate on squeezing the shot off smoothly. That’s important, so that you don’t jerk the trigger and send a shot in the direction of some innocent bystander.

There’s a saying for this, that comes out of the Navy SEALs and Delta force; “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” In other words, trying to get off a fast shot is probably not going to work anyway, because you’re probably going to miss. So take your time to do it smoothly, because you’ll stand a better chance of hitting what you’re aiming at. Ultimately, making that first shot count is faster, even if it takes longer.



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