When Can You Legally Use a Gun for Self-Defense?

In the United States, the Second Amendment of the Constitution states and protects your right to keep and bear arms. In a landmark 2008 decision, the Supreme Court has affirmed that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, including self-defense (DC v. Heller, 2008).

The act of using a firearm for self-defense, defense of others, or defense of property is called Defensive Gun Use (DGU). However, many laws and regulations surround the use of a gun for self-defense.

Situational Considerations

Firearms are, by their nature, deadly weapons. The use of a firearm against another person, legitimately or not, is referred to as lethal force or deadly force. They are one of the most effective self-defense tools because they can inflict death or grievous bodily harm.

However, this effectiveness and lethality make owning and carrying a firearm a significant responsibility.

The situation in which using a firearm to protect yourself is justifiable must respect four criteria:

  • The attacker is the aggressor: As one of the four rules of gun safety says: Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it. There must be clear proof that you were defending yourself against an aggressor in a potential self-defense scenario and that you did not provoke or initiate the conflict.
  • Lethal danger: The attacker must have the ability to inflict severe harm on you, with or without a weapon.
  • Imminent jeopardy: The attackers must present a clear intent to cause harm, either through verbalization or their actions. Because it is difficult, if not impossible, to discern another person’s true intentions, this factor most often hinges on the reasonable belief that your life was in danger.
  • Last resort: There were no other options available for you to avoid or mitigate the danger, and you’ve either considered or attempted other solutions, escalating your situation to a matter of last resort.

The ability to use a firearm for personal defense does not hinge on whether you can, but rather, whether you had no other choice.

Legal Aspects

Gun for Self-Defense

Three commonly-discussed legal doctrines apply to the use of a weapon for self-defense: Duty-to-retreat, stand-your-grounds, and castle doctrine.

Some states and localities possess duty-to-retreat statutes, making it a legal requirement for a person under threat to retreat to a place of safety first, even if their lives are in danger.

In contrast, the concept of a stand-your-ground law is the principle that one has no duty to retreat when threatened or attacked. In stand-your-ground states, a person defending themselves is theoretically allowed to match force with force; in other words, to protect oneself and fight back with equivalent force where they stand, including lethal force.

A third concept called castle doctrine functions as a legal protection statute for self-defense in the home. Castle doctrine statutes stipulate that one’s home is akin to a castle, making it legal for a homeowner or home resident to defend it with lethal force against intruders.

Specific states may have both duty-to-retreat and castle doctrine statutes, in which case there is a duty-to-retreat except in the home.

The Last Word

If you are considering a firearm for self-defense or personal protection, always check your state and local laws regarding armed self-defense before you purchase your first gun.

IFA Tactical is committed to promoting and defending the Second Amendment by offering a large selection of firearms, ammunition, shooting accessories, and gear. If you’re considering buying your first firearm, or if you have any questions, call us at (586) 275-2176.