Yes, You Can Defend Yourself with a Firearm

By Kellene Bishop

As a Utah Concealed Firearms Permit Instructor, it’s no wonder that I am asked frequently “when is it exactly permissible to defend yourself with a firearm?”  Many believe that the circumstances of defending yourself are actually rare. Personally, I don’t believe that 2.5 million crimes being stopped every year with a firearm constitutes a “rare” circumstance, but I will address this issue as clearly as I can.  Bottom line is, under the correct circumstances, the answer is YES, you can defend yourself with a firearm, legally, lawfully, and morally. 

woman defending herself

I will attempt to answer this question bluntly in this article, however, keep in mind that state laws vary, so please check with your state.  I’ll do my best to speak in more universal terms as assured by the Constitution of the United States.

  1. You have the right to defend yourself if you feel your life is in jeopardy or you are under threat of serious bodily injury.  Based on my most recent research, this standard is applicable in every state in the U.S.  This does not mean that you have to wait until you’ve been punched, shot at, told that you’re going to be killed, or any other such aspect.  If you are in the midst of a threatening encounter in which either of these two qualifiers are present, you have the right to permanently stop your attacker.  The foundation is that you must feel an imminent danger upon your life or the threat of serious bodily injury.  If you’ve received a death threat, no, you cannot be proactive and put the antagonist out of his misery.  Defending yourself must be “reactive” in such an instance.  However, with the truth of the situation, law enforcement will typically see such as “self-defense”.
  2. The next issue is not cut and dry in all states in the U.S., although it is generally acceptable.  You are permitted to defend the life of someone else who is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.  That’s right.  If you come across someone who is being threatened at knife point, you are permitted to take action with your firearm to defend such a situation.  Although I would strongly advise you to be 100% certain of your environment prior to doing so
  3. I haven’t found a state yet that prohibits this (although there are plenty of shameful countries which do), but in the U.S. you are permitted to defend your habitation—plain and simple.  If someone forcibly or with deception enters your home uninvited, you have the right to encourage them to leave the premises immediately, even by permanently stopping them. 
  4. Lastly, the U.S. Constitution entitles Americans to defend their property.  While this does not mean that you can kill someone over something as temporary as piece of property, you are permitted in most states to attempt to stop a felony robbery from taking place.  (Even outside your home.)  With proper concealed permits, you are allowed to approach a felon in a fully armed state.  If your attempts to stop the felon were to escalate to the point in which your life or body was threatened, then you could legally use a firearm to stop such danger

In all such instances, defending yourself must be a reactive result, never a proactive one.  The only offensive actions you can take part in is to be competent and proficient with your firearm, have it handy, and have it ready to go in an emergency.  This is how you become truly prepared.  Unexpected events need not be tragic ones, if you’ve properly rehearsed your response. 

Ultimately, your right to protect yourself is inherent in the U.S. Constitution; however, it also behooves you to become very familiar with the laws in your area in order that you might fully be protected.

Note that the author of this article is NOT an attorney, nor does she play one on T.V.

Copyright 2009 Kellene Bishop. All rights reserved.  You are welcome to repost this information so long as it is credited to Kellene Bishop.


11 Responses

  1. One of the first things when folks ask me about getting a gun isn’t what kind of gun to get, to read then law,then ask a lawyer about them. Then get your gun and permit, this way you will be informed before you do something.

    • There’s merit in knowing the law. However, that’s the responsibility of the Concealed Handgun class, to teach you about the laws in your state. I’m a bit leery in relying on an attorney to tell me the gun laws. I say that because I have a lot of them that call ME for their reference. *eek* The laws should be clearly laid out relevant to this topic on the state websites. *I hope*

  2. quote from Kellene:
    “Note that the author of this article is NOT an attorney, nor does she play one on T.V.”

    Ok, but did you at least stay in a Holiday Inn? In places like Chicago, and New York City, handguns are a no no. I guess that the thugs didn’t get that memo. 😮

    Massachusetts has some incredibly stupid gun laws as well

    • I can’t say I’ve ever possessed a handgun on my person in Chicago or New York. I basically make it my practice to stay CLEAR of places that have no respect for human life nor the ability to defend it.
      Considering its rich patriotic history, I find that many of the laws in MA are absolutely mind boggling. Our forefathers from New England must be rolling in their graves.

  3. #3 on your list can get pretty sticky in some states… Here in NC for example… you are allowed to use lethal force to PREVENT someone from breaking into your house… but once they are inside, you can only use lethal force if they are posing an imminent threat to you…

    It is legal here to shoot through your door to stop a home invasion… odd, but it makes some sense… if for example, you wake up one night and someone is on your couch watching TV, you cant just shoot them…

    now my argument would be that anyone in my house without permission would be an imminent threat, but the law does not agree…

  4. Believe it or not Chris, my husband and I make all of our moving determinations based on the gun laws in a particular state. Fortunately, the moment someone puts their foot in my home uninvited in Utah, it triggers an open season.
    I’m with you. Someone in my home does indeed pose an imminent threat.

    • That’s morbid. Would you honestly engage in an “open-season” style bloodbath simply because somebody entered your home uninvited? That’s quite simply the most primitive and crude thing I’ve ever heard a person of (presumably) reasonable intelligence/education say.

      Are we honestly so feeble-minded that we must resort to classifying actions/scenarios as “imminent threats” or “not imminent threats”? Is it really that simple? Black & white?

      I really hope you’re kidding when you imply that you would MURDER a person on your property for no reason other than the person being on your property. Please tell me you would at least ask them why they intruded, or call the police, or something less IRRATIONAL.

      That said, if someone in your home (uninvited) actually POSES a threat, i.e. makes a dangerous approach, threatens you, etc, then sure: fire at will. I personally wouldn’t, because I’m a servant of public health and work with “the knife” to improve human lives/health, but if you would, fine.

      • Sam, I’m not really sure where you get the basis for your comment. But then again, I reread the article knowing full well what I meant to say, and may not be as objective as necessary. To be clear, it’s not the “uninvited visitor” status that would cause me to take deadly force action. It’s a clear threat to my life, virtue, health, or family that would, in my opinion, require me to take necessary steps to STOP that intruder. Just because I legally can take a life doesn’t mean I would see fit to do so.

        I do not teach murder, and I would certainly hope that no one would “kid” about such a topic. I teach self-defense, plain and simple–thus the title of the article. I do not teach or condone vigilante behavior in any way, shape or form. However, yes, it is black and white to me in terms of defending my family. I will NOT stop to call 9-1-1 and then defend myself. Law enforcement nearly always come into play AFTER the crime has been committed. I will NOT take time for a friendly dialogue when someone is standing over me with a bat, a knife, or a gun. If someone tells me that they are going to rape me and make my children watch, I will believe them and act accordingly. I see that kind of approach, and the conversation is over. Double-tap. Intruder is done. I find it interesting when I hear individuals think that defending oneself against a truly crude and primitive attack such as this, rather than becoming educated in the defense of such.

        I have no idea what your profession truly is, however I will mention for the benefit of our readers that errors in the public health industry (ie: hospitals, urgent care centers, etc.) are actually the number one cause of death in the U.S., even more so than heart disease, cancer, or defensive actions with a firearm. And yet the medial profession is largely opposed to firearm self-defense. I’m still trying to figure out the reason for this and see what I can do to help with accurate education on this matter.

  5. Good article, but:
    “2.5 million crimes being stopped every day“?

    The usual number quoted is per year.

    Still a lot, though.

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