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Learning about the legitimate use of lethal force.

Last week’s discussion about armed intervention by a concealed carrier drew a lot of commentary, and for that I’m thankful. It’s important that topics like this are discussed ahead of time, before an incident unfolds.

I worded the article very carefully to elicit one thing: a careful consideration, by each of us, of what we would do when faced with that kind of situation. I’ll admit, though, at being rather surprised that a good number of comments reduced the options to a) pull out a gun or b) walk away and do nothing. Of course those aren’t the only things that could be done, and almost no one considered the alternatives that might have been more appropriate.

Understanding the legalities surrounding the use of deadly force is, in my mind, a critical component of a self-defense skill set. It’s also the most difficult to learn, as there are very few people teaching this information and there are a lot of nuances to consider. (The one thing I’ve learned from observing the legal system over many years is that there is rarely such a thing as black-and-white!)

With nuance comes the possibility of misunderstanding, and the shooting community has no end of that. Thankfully we all now understand — or at least I hope we all understand — that the old advice of shooting someone outside of your front door then dragging the body inside to make it look like legitimate self defense is wrong. It’s right up there with “fill your hollowpoint bullets with mercury to make them more deadly” on the nonsense scale (which I haven’t heard in ages, so I guess we are making progress!)

We all need better education in this area, but where can the average person learn about the legalities and consequences of lethal force? For many years I’ve suggested that people take
Massad Ayoob’s MAG-20 class, which is two days of study about these topics. This isn’t a shooting class; it’s a class devoted to learning about the laws of self defense and how those laws are applied through the courts. It might sound a bit dry, but Mas does a good job of presenting it in an engaging way.

My wife and I took this class back in 1995, and to this day I consider it one of the best self defense investments we’ve made. Mas teaches at various places around the country, but even if he’s not coming to your hometown it’s worth the effort to attend. Yes, even if you need to hop on a plane and get a hotel room to do so.

The next opportunity to take MAG-20 is in Cleveland in February. It’s being hosted by my colleague Paul Carlson at Safety Solutions Academy, and
you can register for that class at this link. Do yourself a favor and attend!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Warning shots: they can land you in jail, and you'll probably deserve it.

One of the sure ways to get a certain number of gun owners up in arms is to post a story about someone being arrested for firing a warning shot. The attitude seems to be that if the person didn’t shoot at someone else, and didn’t hit anyone accidentally, where’s the harm?

Warning shots seem to be grossly misunderstood by a large percentage of gun owners, who are confused about their legality and practicality. It’s really quite simple: they’re virtually never justified. (I’d go so far as to say that they’re never justified under any circumstances, but that’s just me.)

Take this story about
a woman in Virginia whose daughter was in an altercation with a neighborhood boy. Accounts vary, but apparently the boy in question either punched her daughter in the face, or just insulted her, but the result was some degree of (mutual?) assault.

The mother, one Lakisha Gaither, said that she walked away, into the middle of the parking lot, looked around to make sure that no one was around, then drew her gun and fired a shot into the air. For that, she was arrested.

She should have been.

The principle is this: the gun is always a tool of deadly force. If you’re not justified in shooting a person because of an immediate threat to your life (or the life of another innocent person), you’re not justified in shooting at all. A warning shot is in effect an admission that you didn’t need to use deadly force, otherwise you would have actually aimed at the person who was the threat.

You can’t use the threat of deadly force (the warning shot) to convince or coerce someone else’s behavior outside of an immediate threat to your life.

The problem is Ms. Gaither apparently didn’t have a justifiable reason for pulling the trigger. She simply wanted a boy to stop arguing with her daughter, so she used her deadly weapon to put some fear into him. By her own account, the incident wasn’t one in which her daughter was in immediate (and otherwise unavoidable, particularly since this altercation appears to have been mutual) danger of death or grave bodily harm.

Therefore she didn’t have the right to fire her gun, and she was arrested for discharging a firearm illegally.

If the situation warrants the use of deadly force, then it warrants using that force directly against the attacker. If the situation is such that you don’t need to shoot the other person and you’re not legally justified in doing so, then you’re not justified in discharging your gun, period.

Warning shots are for television shows and the fools who get their training from them. I trust that you don’t fall into that category, but let’s help educate those who do! One way you can do so is to join (and get others to join) the
Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network (ACLDN). The ACLDN not only helps you survive the legal aftermath of a lethal encounter, they give you a thorough education in the legalities of lethal force so that you understand - clearly - when it is and isn’t appropriate. Highly recommended!

-=[ Grant ]=-

(As always: I am not a lawyer. This is a layman’s understanding of the laws surrounding the use of lethal force, and you should always seek competent legal guidance for any questions you have about the legal issues regarding guns and self defense.)

Don't do stupid things, and don't talk to the media. And never do both at the same time!

From Toledo, OH comes the story of a homeowner who did something stupid: she took her .357 and confronted a petty thief who her boyfriend reportedly caught stealing a bicycle from her front porch. Why is this stupid? Because the thief's actions did not rise to the level that justifies the threat of lethal force.

In general, lethal force can only be used when the defender is in immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm through the actions of another. In this case there was no apparent lethal threat; the suspect was simply stealing a bicycle. Yes, I know that's a crime but it's not one which justifies the use of a firearm!

The woman held the suspect at gunpoint and threatened to shoot him if he didn't submit. What if he had decided not to comply? Would she have pulled the trigger? Had she done so she most certainly would have faced criminal charges, and quite likely have been convicted. She used the threat of lethal force (the gun) when it wasn't warranted and when she was not herself in grave danger from the petty thief.

Had she not fired at the non-compliant subject, the threat of force would have been proven hollow and might have resulted in her gun being taken from her by a suspect who suddenly understood she wasn't actually prepared to shoot him. A criminal with a stolen handgun standing in front of a disarmed female is never a good scenario.

I know the indignation she must have felt being a burglary victim, and I understand the elation we all experience when one of these guys is caught by a courageous homeowner. At the same time, responsible gun ownership demands that we behave within the law and more importantly think through the consequences of our actions. Her misplaced bravado could have quickly turned tragic had she either shot the suspect or had he gotten control of her gun. I can’t think of a reputable trainer who would recommend this course of action.

What makes her situation worse is that she
went on camera for the local news show and re-enacted the incident. Now, should she ever actually shoot someone, the prosecution has evidence of prior lapses in judgement. I've said before that a shooting isn't "clean" until a judge or jury says it is; this video might likely convince someone on a jury that she doesn't understand the proper and legitimate use of lethal force, and resorts to it too quickly when it isn't justified.

I believe it was John Farnam who famously counseled "don't go to stupid places and do stupid things with stupid people." To that I will add: don’t re-enact those stupid things for the media.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Can you - or should you?

One of the chapters in my upcoming book deals with the legalities of shooting someone in self defense, and in it I make the point that there are perhaps situations where you could, legally, shoot someone - but might not need to do so. I think it's an important distinction.

Many of my students ask when they're allowed to use deadly force, and while knowing the legalities of what you can and can't do is vital** I believe it's also important to focus on the idea of
need. Our self defense laws are set up to allow us to use lethal force when the circumstances are so dire (the likelihood of our own death or crippling injury) that it's necessary. In other words, when we really need to use lethal force is usually when the law allow us to do so. There may be situations, however, when we're legally allowed to shoot but we really don't need to.

Focusing solely on the criteria under which you're allowed to shoot someone, I think, is misguided; from a training standpoint I believe that it's important to focus on recognizing those situations where you need to, when there is no other course of action that you can take in complete safety which will ensure your survival in that instant. Those are the situations where the law is most likely going to be on your side.

Here's a short video from the Personal Defense Network which talks about this concept, and the difference between "can" and "need".

-=[ Grant ]=-

** - the best place to get that kind of legal training is still
MAG-20 from Massad Ayoob. Joining the Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network is also a great way to learn about the legalities of self defense, through their video series on the topic. It's sent free to all registered members and is updated regularly.

"Stand Your Ground" and Zimmerman

I've received a surprising number of emails from people who don't understand, and are quite confused about, the concept of the "stand your ground" (SYG) law in Florida.
(Note: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.)

First things first: Zimmerman's attorneys did not invoke SYG in his case and it was in no way part of his defense. This is important to recognize, because the media (and Michael Bloomberg) are trying their best to convince everyone that his defense team did in fact use it to get him acquitted. Apparently they've succeeded, if my emails are any indication!

SYG was not applicable here, nor did anyone attempt to make it applicable. The jury instructions contained some language that was lifted from the SYG statute to help them determine if he was justified in using deadly force, but no one made the assertion that the law was actually a factor. The instruction given to the jury was if they determined that “he was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force.” Note that it didn’t say “meet verbal threats with force” or “defend his shopping cart with force”, but that he could meet deadly force with deadly force. That’s a specific limitation which is important in understanding this law.

Second: SYG laws do not alter the requirements for the use of deadly force, and do not allow people to shoot other people over minor disagreements. The generally accepted standard to justifiably use deadly force is that the defender be in immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm (sometimes referred to as "crippling injury".) While this varies slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the standard is basically the same: you must be in reasonable and articulable fear for your very life before you may use lethal force. This is not blind fear, but the reasonable belief, based on the totality of the circumstances and the behavior of the aggressor, that your life is in danger.

SYG laws do not lessen or lower this standard. If you shoot someone out of blind fear or anger, regardless of any SYG law in place you will still be tried for (and most likely convicted of) a felony crime. The language of the statute quoted above makes it clear that you may still only meet force with force, not employ force proactively or out of proportion.

The only thing that SYG laws do is to remove the often misused requirement that you run away regardless of the danger to you or others. The purpose of SYG is to acknowledge that your personal safety outside of your home carries the same primacy as it would were you inside your home; in other words, you do not give up the right to your own life just because you're in a public place.

Be very clear: you cannot go out and shoot people (absent a justifiable reason) in a jurisdiction with SYG laws, any more than you can in any other jurisdiction -- regardless of what the television talking heads tell you.

Here are some resources for you to peruse:

The Truth About Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law

Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground Laws

“Stand Your Ground” Laws: Self-Defense or License to Kill? (video with Massad Ayoob)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Stop defending stupid gun owners.

While I was in Connecticut the last few days, I read two stories of stupid people using guns:
one in my own state of Oregon, where a fellow had his gun confiscated because he fired a warning shot at a suspected burglar; and another in my neighboring state of Washington where someone shot and killed a thief who was taking his car.

In both cases the shooters were quite obviously uneducated as to the responsibilities that go with their right to keep and bear arms. Together they show us that we are sometimes our own worst enemy.

Neither incident met the classic definition of when it is legally permissible to use lethal force: when you are faced with imminent and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily injury due to the actions of another. In Oregon, the shooter heard someone trying to break in his back door and fired a warning shot to scare the presumed thief away. In Washington, the shooter left his car idling in his driveway with the keys in the ignition when the thief jumped in to steal it - then shot at the fleeing vehicle, killing the thief.

In neither case, if the information we have now is correct, did the situation warrant firing a shot
or even presenting a firearm. Warning shots are always a stupid idea, and shooting at someone who is running away with your possessions is almost always against the law. Lethal force is to be reserved for those cases where your life is in immediate danger, not in cases like this.

What is more disturbing is the way certain segments of the (presumably) law-abiding firearms community reacted to each of the cases. In the Oregon incident much was made about the fact that the shooter was a military vet and that it was somehow wrong to confiscate a veteran's rifle over a 'mere' warning shot. The sad fact is that he broke the law; he recklessly endangered the people around him, and he used a weapon illegally by discharging it when it wasn't necessary to do so. The charges he's facing are legitimate, because he abrogated his responsibilities as a gun owner.

In the Washington case the shooter has far fewer defenders, largely because the person who was stealing his car died of his wounds. Still, there are those who decry the fact that the shooter is being charged with First Degree Manslaughter for protecting his property. Again, a little education would have gone a long way: shooting at a fleeing felon, except in a few very rare and very specific instances, is not lawful behavior. This instance was a mere property crime, and doesn't even begin to approach the legal standards regarding fleeing felons.

These cases illustrate why I believe that your legal education is as important as your shooting education. For years I've recommended that everyone who has a gun for self protection take
Massad Ayoob's two-day class in the judicious use of lethal force (MAG-20/Classroom.) Ayoob's class is the closest thing we have a to a gold standard in the shooting world, recommended by a wide variety of shooting authorities who may never agree on anything else. If you haven't taken that class, make the investment. Had these two uneducated gun owners taken that class, I doubt that either would be facing the serious repercussions of their thoughtless actions.

Another way to provide for your own legal education is to
join the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network. Aside from their financial and legal support in the aftermath of a self-defense shooting, membership comes with a seven-hour DVD course on the legalities of self defense. The DVDs are from recognized experts in the field, and have been vetted by attorneys who specialize in self defense cases. Highly recommended.

It's painful to see one of our own suffer for his poor judgement, but as responsible gun owners we can neither support nor defend their reckless actions. They can and should be used as object lessons for the rest of us: with rights come responsibilities, and being ignorant of the law will get you into trouble. Take Ayoob's class; join the ACLDN. Learn what you can and cannot do with your gun before something like either of these cases happens to you.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Considering the knife as a defensive tool?

It's rather fashionable in the self defense world to carry a knife as a backup to a firearm. At any 'tactical' event you'll find people carrying a 'fighting' blade along with a 'backup' blade, and some practitioners advocate the knife as a primary tool for self defense.

There was a time when I espoused such points of view, but over the years I've changed my mind a bit. The knife is almost always considered deadly force, and brings with it some surprising legal risks and social connotations.
This month's edition of the Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network Journal is all about knives, and explores not just their tactical use but what they look like from the legal side of the table.

There is some eye-opening information in this issue, and if you carry a knife on your person (particularly of the one-hand-opening variety) I
strongly encourage you to read the whole Journal. (Download the PDF version and keep it with your self defense reference materials.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Evidence in the Trayvon Martin case - and how it affects you.

The Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network (of which
you should be a member) has published an interesting look at the Martin/Zimmerman case in their June newsletter. The Florida courts, as their law requires, released all of the evidence related to the case a couple of weeks ago. In his article, Marty Hayes looks at a portion of that released evidence and makes some observations which might be useful to those who carry a firearm for self protection. I recommend you read the article.

One of the more intriguing bits was the condition of the area around the entry wound on Martin's body, leading to some speculation about the exact distance from muzzle to contact. This will, as Marty clearly points out, require ballistic testing of the gun and identical ammo to determine at what distance the test matches the evidence.

Since the court will likely not let the remaining ammunition in the gun be shot (that would be destruction of evidence), they'll need to get exemplar rounds (rounds which match exactly the ammunition used) to make those tests.

I point this out because there is still a vocal subset of people who insist that carrying handloaded ammunition for self defense is a perfectly good thing to do. (I do not know if Zimmerman did or did not; that probably won't be known until the testing progresses.) If Zimmerman did the smart thing and carried factory ammunition, all the defense will need to do is contact the manufacturer and get a box or two of the same ammunition, preferably with the same lot number. The results from firing that ammo in his gun should then match the results from the shooting, which will allow the defense to precisely determine the distance from which Martin was shot.

The testing could help validate Zimmerman's claim of self defense. Given his recent tribulations over bail revocation, he may need all the objective help he can get.

If this were a case where the shooter handloaded his ammunition, regardless of how carefully he kept records, the results of the testing would likely not be allowed into evidence. I won't go into detail as there is copious reading material available on this subject, but the bottom line is that the courts generally don't allow the defendant to manufacture evidence for his/her defense. If someone in a similar situation used reloaded ammunition, he'd be at a double loss: not only would the courts not allow the ammo in the gun to be used to support his claim, they wouldn't allow any other self-manufactured ammo to be used either.

It's not about what's "legal", it's about the rules of evidence - and they work differently than you might expect.

The supporters of handloaded ammo constantly repeat the refrain "if it's a clean shoot, then the ammo won't matter." Is the Zimmerman case a "clean" shoot? At this point I don't think anyone would be stupid enough to say that it was. It may turn out that he was completely justified (or not - we won't know until a jury comes back), but the arbiter of a "clean" shoot ultimately isn't you, or me, or the cops, or the DA - it's the jury. A shoot isn't "clean" until a jury says it is, and the ammunition used is going to be one factor in their determination.

It's something of a Catch-22: in a clean shoot the ammo wouldn't matter, but we don't know if it's a clean shoot until the jury has decided it was, and part of their decision making may involve having the ammo tested, which means the ammo DOES matter. See the problem?

This is why I only carry factory ammunition in my guns. I use my considerable reloading skill and experience to craft practice rounds that duplicate my carry ammunition in bullet weight, velocity, recoil, and point of impact, which I use only for practice or training. When I load the gun for defensive use, I put in ammunition made by someone who can supply a certified duplicate of what I've used should I need to shoot someone. Their word about the composition of the ammo will be accepted by the court, where mine wouldn't. This way I can practice cheaply and still have the backing of a reliable third party in case I need it in court.

This is also why I only carry ammunition from a major manufacturer. I don't carry "boutique" ammunition, the kind made by small speciality manufacturers, because a) those companies tend to go in and out of business with disturbing frequency; b) I don't know if they have the resources or motivation to keep samples of every lot produced in case it's needed by a court; c) I don't know if they have a credible witness who can get on the stand and testify to both the composition and chain of custody of the evidence they've provided. I know Winchester, Federal, Remington, and CCI/Speer can and do, and so I load my guns with their products.

(I also never use ammunition made by a company which is not a member of SAAMI, but that's another article for another day!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Even I'd buy one at that price.

I had something else planned for today, but it wasn't nearly as cool as this!

Over at Forgotten Weapons is a story about
visiting a gun show in Belgium. Now I know we all have a vision of Europe as being devoid of gun ownership (or at least so restricted as to make it impossible to own anything cool), but it would do us well to remember that Europe is the land of the cheap and readily available suppressor.

Compare that to the file-your-paperwork-and-$200-and-wait-six-months ordeal that owning a simple muffler entails here in The Land Of The Free.

That's not the only thing about which (some) Europeans are more enlightened. Take a look at the mounds of full-auto military hardware for sale at the aforementioned Belgian show - then look at the prices. Yes, $1250 for a Dror machine gun. I don't follow the Class II world at all, but even I know that in comparison to the U.S. that is a screaming, unbelievable, unfathomable deal. And there are lots more where those came from!

Of course there is the other side of the coin, and on Wednesday I hope to be able to present it to you. In the meantime, though, may you dream pleasant dreams of cheap Thompsons.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings: Safety rules, big revolver, and juries.

I hope everyone enjoyed my little SHOT Show recap last week. Between recovering from a nasty cold (which I picked up in Vegas) and being a bit tired of talking guns, this morning is going to be all linky, no thinky.

-- Over at the
Geek With A Gun blog, there is a discussion about my recent post on safety rules. He doesn't entirely agree with me, which is okay - the important thing is that he's THINKING about the rules and their effect on those who hear them, rather than doing the knee-jerk "the four rules are immutable" routine. The more people who understand that any rule which requires people to pretend something is doomed to failure, the better off we'll all be.

-- As you may know, I've become a fan of the Forgotten Weapons blog. This morning I checked my RSS feed to find that they have an article on the
Hotchkiss Revolving Cannon! (Hey, it's a revolver - it's topical for this blog!)

-- There was an interesting article published in TheJury Expert, which is the journal of the American Society of Trial Consultants, back in September of 2009. In it, Glenn Meyer did a little test on the
effect of firearm appearance on the opinions of a mock jury. The results were a little surprising.

Happy Monday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another great review of my book!

Gila Hayes over at the Armed Citizen Legal Defense Network (ACLDN) just posted a
very nice review of The Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver in their monthly journal. (In the interest of full disclosure, Gila is both a friend and the person who introduced me to my publisher. She is also known for her scrupulously ethical writing, which makes me doubly proud of her review.)

For those waiting for my book to come to the iPad, the publisher assures me that it's coming "soon" to the iTunes Bookstore. Not sure what's taking it so long, but they tell me the delay is on the iTunes end of things. As soon as it shows up I'll let you know.

(Speaking of the ACLDN - are you a member yet? The ACLDN is the premier organization for anyone who keeps a gun for self-protection. It's not unusual for justifiable self defense cases to end up in the courtroom, and the ACLDN provides support to its members should that ever happen. They also provide educational resources, attorney and expert witness referrals, and much more.

Take a good look at their benefits, look at the renowned experts who sit on their board, and seriously consider putting all that to work for you by becoming a member.

I know there are competing organizations with similar-sounding products looking to make a quick buck from you, but the ACLDN is where your money should go - they're the professionals. Regular readers know this isn’t the first time I’ve praised the ACLDN, and I'll continue to do so because I believe they are the best and most trustworthy resource in the field.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings, August 15th Edition.

My wife and I trekked up to
Firearms Academy of Seattle yesterday to spend a little time talking about revolvers, books, and assorted nonsense. Massad Ayoob and Gail Pepin were there, along with Marty and Gila Hayes, Jennie Van Tuyl, and several dogs. We recorded a rather raucous round-table edition of the ProArms Podcast (wherein I actually say some nice things about Taurus, and try to say some nice things about the Chiappa Rhino but fail miserably.)


Marty gave us a status report on the
Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network as well as a sneak peek of what's to come. As I pointed out last week, the ACLDN is unique in the field; it's the only place where the armed citizen can get high-level education and legal assistance in the event he or she is involved in a self defense incident. Glad to hear that they're growing and expanding their programs.


Jennie Van Tuyl and her husband Bill own
Rivendell Sales, a rather unique gun store. Among other things they specialize in customizing the Remington 20 gauge autoloading shotgun for defensive use, an activity which I wholeheartedly applaud.

I'm a huge fan of the 20 gauge as a defensive tool. No matter how well you shoot a 12 gauge, you'll shoot a 20 gauge better simply because of the huge reduction in felt recoil. The only difference between them is the payload; they both throw their pellets at the same velocity, it's just that the 12 throws a few more. As Mas Ayoob is fond of saying, if you shoot a bad guy the only person who'll be able to tell whether it was a 12 or a 20 is the coroner, and only then by counting the white specks on the x-ray.

(One point I think is often overlooked: many 12 gauge owners use the lower-velocity "tactical" buckshot loads to help tame the recoil of their gun. It's my firm belief that those loads have less effectiveness than a full-power 20 gauge with the same recoil. Any way you slice it, the 20 gauge is the best balance of lethality and shootability that exists in the shotgun world.)

The Remington autoloaders are slim, trim, light shotguns that are a joy to heft after lugging around one of the same guns in 12 gauge. Many years ago my wife and I standardized on the 20 gauge and picked up a Remington 1100 LT-20 Youth Synthetic model. The youth guns had a shorter stock than the regular line, a feature which both of us appreciate. Since there was no one who really worked on the 20 gauges back then, I installed a 20" smoothbore barrel with rifle sights, reamed the forcing cone, and generally spruced it up as a home defense gun. Today the Van Tuyls can handle all that and more, giving you a superb handling, easy shooting shotgun without having to become your own gunsmith.

Check out their site. (I’m jealous of the wood in their stocks.)


Over the weekend Tam exposed us to
yet another questionable training organization. Their video actually made me simultaneously cringe and laugh, which when you think about it is really a pretty good trick. pdb also picked up on their shenanigans, giving us his typically humorous critique.

I think, however, that both Tam and pdb wasted a lot of effort actually analyzing the video. They could have simply used my theorem: quality of instruction in a video is inversely proportional to the sound pressure level of the cheesy heavy metal music used on the soundtrack.

Correlation seems to be high.


Happy Monday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

"I need a gun-friendly lawyer."

While easting my lunch yesterday I decided to do a little surfing. I bounced around a bit, watched a couple of YouTube videos, and ended up doing something I always regret: checking out some of the more popular gun forums. Why 'regret'? Because they usually make my head hurt; inanity does that to me.

Yesterday's was a thread with the title "I need a gun-friendly lawyer." The writer goes on to say that he needs to find one in his area in case he's ever involved in a self-defense shooting.

Sadly, no one gave him the correct answer: "no, you don't. You need a lawyer who's good at his/her job."

If you're involved in a defensive shooting, what you want is a lawyer who understands the intricacies of the justice system, but more importantly understands the unique demands of making the affirmative defense that exists in all righteous self-defense cases: 'yes, I shot him, and I had a darned good reason to do so.' Whether that lawyer happens to be "gun friendly" is beside the point - you pick the lawyer on expertise, not affinity with your hobbies.

Though not related to self defense, I have an illustration of the concept. A number of years ago I was a member of a large gun club. Our club had a big parcel of land, part of which was encumbered by a power company right-of-way. There were a lot of complicated legal issues about what could and could not be done on that slice of property, and we needed the best real estate/natural resource lawyer we could get. As it happened, he was at best ambivalent about guns; he told the Board that he didn't really feel comfortable around them and didn't want to be. At first this angered the membership, who felt their dues were going to pay an anti-gunner.

Luckily the Board used their critical thinking skills and decided that it was a good idea to have an attorney who understood land use law better than ballistics. He turned out to be a tireless advocate for our cause, prevailing multiple times against a huge legal department filled with good lawyers. If we'd insisted on a lawyer who liked guns, we might not have been so fortunate.

Don't start your search by looking for "gun friendly" attorneys. Instead look for attorneys who have experience with prosecutions for serious charges. That might be a criminal defense attorney, maybe a former prosecutor who now works the other side of the street, or perhaps the lawyer who defends police officers when they've discharged their firearms in the line of duty. What you want is someone who can defend you, not who agrees with you. Once you've found that person, then you can decide if his/her opinions on firearms are likely to be a help or a hinderance in your case.

Of course if you can find a good defense lawyer who is also sympathetic to the rights of gun owners, so much the better. You’re not likely to find them on some ill-defined list of “gun friendly attorneys”; instead, such people tend to hang with the
Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network. Because of that it's an organization well worth your time to investigate.

Critical thinking: much better than listening to some anonymous guy who calls himself “Rock-A-Glock47”.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Paging Dr. Ayoob.

We need 100cc of Factual Information, stat!

This splashed onto several blogs last week, and it's just too good a train wreck to ignore. Do not be mislead: the advice this guy gives is a sure ticket to a jail cell. The ‘term clueless loon' comes to mind...

For years people like
Mas Ayoob and Marty Hayes have been educating people on the realities of the legal side of self defense, but apparently this guy missed every freaking memo - or, perhaps as likely, willfully ignored them. Rest assured that if you follow any of his advice, you will go to prison.

Don't be this guy; learn about your rights and responsibilities, how shooting cases are investigated, and how claims of self defense are tested in court. The information is out there,
it's readily available, and it can keep you from making stupid mistakes.

(This video also serves as a perfect illustration of why you should never take medical, legal, or self defense advice from anyone who hides behind a pseudonym on the 'net.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Cleanliness, judicially-speaking.

Some time ago Force Science News told the
story of a police officer named Dan Lovelace. He shot and killed a suspect who tried to run him down and was almost convicted of second degree murder. Prosecutors argued that he lied about the shooting, and one of their sterling pieces of evidence was the location of a single piece (Lovelace fired one shot only) of expended brass.

One. Single. Piece. (Note that I'm not commenting one way or the other about Mr. Lovelace's guilt or innocence, only on the reliability of certain kinds of evidence that might be entered into any 'righteous' shooting investigation.)

Force Science recently did an interesting followup
study about the patterns of ejection from autoloading pistols, and basically found that one piece of brass told nearly nothing about where the shooter might have been during an altercation.

As I've said before, and as I'll continue to say, there is no such thing as a 'clean' shoot - at least until a jury says there is. It behooves you to understand all of the things that can affect the evidence presented, how they’re interpreted, and most importantly the counter-arguments to neutralize them.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Presented for your consideration. Again.

I've been pretty clear over the years about my belief in the myth of the 'clean shoot'. It's a phrase that comes up with amazing regularity in various forums and in gunshops all across the country: as long as your shoot is 'clean', nothing else matters.

As I've pointed out, the people who decide if your self defense act was 'clean' sit on a jury. Whether you think it was a 'good' shoot, whether I do, whether your instructor does, or whether the anonymous guy hiding behind a pseudonym on your favorite gun forum does, is completely irrelevant. The people who decide if you were in the right, if what you did and how you did it was reasonable, are the men and women on your jury.

The problem is that it can take a lot of time, money, and anguish to get to the point where they decide you're clean, time/money/anguish that could have been saved had you paid some attention to your situation ahead of time.

Yet another cautionary tale in how things can go from bad to much, much worse
comes from the life of one Gerald Ung. It's obvious that he did some stupid things, but according to internet experts all over those things shouldn't have mattered if his shoot was 'clean'. They did matter, and it took some time and money and stomach lining to get a jury to exonerate him.

Don’t be ‘that guy’.

(Another illustration of why I never take medical or legal advice from someone who won't use their real name.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

You need to read this. Seriously.

One consistent theme amongst the less informed is that all you need worry about in a defensive encounter is that it’s a “good shoot.” Nothing else, according to these keyboard commandoes, matters - you can do anything, as long as the shoot is "clean."

The trouble is that neither you, nor they, get to decide what's "clean" and what's not. In my state, a Grand Jury makes the first decision, and if they say it isn't "clean" it then goes to a trial jury to make the final decision. They're the ones who will scrutinize any self defense shooting, and the pseudonymous self-appointed experts from your favorite forum will be conspicuously absent.

You see, what looks "clean" to you may not look "clean" to another person. Even if you explain it in detail they may still not see it your way, especially if it's a jury weighing your explanation against someone else trying to convince them of the opposite. Malicious prosecutions and lying witnesses exist, and they don't make that job any easier.

For those of you who still don't get this concept, I urge you to run over to the
Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network and read this month's Journal. It is devoted to the story of Larry Hickey, who just recently won his freedom after two trials that stemmed from a defensive shooting. His ordeal, recounted in complete detail, serves as a caution to all those who still believe in the myth of the "clean shoot."

Don’t get me wrong - I’m not saying that you necessarily need to indulge in some fearfully exaggerated lawyer-proofing of your defensive preparations, but you do need to understand that you can’t run around like Rambo, either. This article dramatically illustrates the the value of knowing how to interact with the police after you’ve been involved in a shooting, the need to be able to articulate why you did what you did, and how evidence can be ignored, lost, or even turned to your disadvantage.

The article runs twenty-two pages, and I believe it to be
invaluable for anyone who carries a gun for self defense - and should be required reading for anyone who pontificates about legal issues on gun forums. The Journal is in PDF form; here's a direct link to that file.

Don’t brush this off - go read the article.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What happens after the shooting?

It's easy to get preoccupied with in the shooting part of self defense preparations. Let's face it: shooting is fun!

If you take self defense seriously, however, at some point you have to ask about the "after part" - what happens after you've discharged your gun at an assailant. This is an area that is infrequently covered, or simply covered in misinformation.

Marty Hayes wants to change that.

Marty is the President of the
Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, which has just released his booklet titled "What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know About Self Defense Law".

It's a very readable introduction to the considerations which should be made before you're involved in a self-defense shooting. It lays out, it easy to understand language, the legal ramifications of the use of deadly force and how to best prepare to navigate the legal system.

Marty has spent years studying the topic, first as a police officer, then a shooting instructor, and now as the possessor of a degree in law. Marty is in the unique position of knowing not just the theoretical application of the law, but how it it plays out in real life.

He told me that he wrote the 16-page booklet to counter "the oft times incredibly bad advice" that abounds in gunshops and on the internet. His goal is to "change the paradigm in which people receive their training in deadly force for self defense." It's a tall order, but this is a great start! It lays out a superb introduction to the legal realities of self defense. It's factual information that every gun owner needs to read.

You can
download your own free copy from the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network. Just click on the image of the booklet and it will download as a PDF file. Print it out, read it, keep it handy.

I'll be giving a copy to everyone I know and everyone I teach. You should too.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another company that apparently doesn't want your business.

Fear And Loading blog alerted me to this story from the Charlotte Gun Rights Examiner. Seems that with the NRA Convention in town, the local Marriott decided to take conventioneer's money and then slap them in the face for the privilege. Interesting read, and it looks like the Marriott manager has bitten off more than he can chew.

(This is in stark contrast to the
Virginia Beach Resort in which I stayed a few weeks back. Not only did they host the Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development course, the staff was completely at ease with a bunch of gun guys roaming the halls. I went so far as to store a gun in one of their safe deposit boxes, and the desk clerks didn't even blink. Great place.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

GETTING THE MESSAGE: I've been harping on the failures of "Rule #1" for some time now, and it seems that the attitude is catching on. Slowly, but at least progress is being made.

IT ISN'T JUST ME: I've recently expounded on the issue of dogmatic teaching in the self defense world, and I'm not alone in my criticism. Check out this post from Roger Phillips over at, then read the entire discussion. (I've never met Roger, don't know him from Adam, but he makes sense. Can't say that about everyone.)

POCKET COMPANION: no, not a J-frame! From Dustin's Gun Blog I learned of a new iPhone/iPod Touch app called Legal Heat. It's an interactive version of their printed guide to concealed carry and gun laws in all 50 states, written by attorneys and instructors. It' a great idea, and something that's needed. Unfortunately, despite the viability of the concept I cannot in good conscience recommend this particular app.

There is a big issue with Legal Heat's usability. The pages are just images of the book, which means they're pictures and not text. This sounds inconsequential, but it's not. When you bring up the laws on a state, because it's showing the whole page the text is tiny; unreadably small. To read it, you need to magnify the image by pinching. (The usual double-tap doesn't work, because it doesn't work on full-frame images!) Once you magnify the image to read the text, you have to continually scroll back and forth because images don't wrap text. Finally, the app doesn't support screen rotation; it only displays in portrait orientation, which exacerbates the scrolling issue.

Frankly, iPhone users are accustomed to a higher level of application quality than Legal Heat delivers. If they would simply make their pages actual text and enable screen rotation I'd be comfortable recommending it. As it stands, even at $1.99 it's not worth the hassle.

DEAL ALERT: My background in commercial photography has left me more than a little anal retentive with regards to optics, particularly when it comes to binoculars. I'm a fan of porro-prism designs, as they a) have better three-dimensional perspective, b) are brighter, and c) cost less than roof-prism types for any given level of optical quality (resolution/contrast.)

Minox makes some of the best porro-prism binocs. The optical performance is exceptional, and the build quality matches the glass. They make an 8x and a 10x version, and at a street price of roughly $550 they are something of a bargain; you'll need to spend roughly twice as much to get a roof prism of comparable performance, and you still won't get the perspective advantage that the porro-prism design gives you.

Despite their advantages, porro-prism designs are distinctly unfashionable these days and don't sell well regardless of brand. Roof prisms are what people buy, and Minox has bowed to the market: they've discontinued the 10x model.
SWFA is closing them out at $299.95, which has to be classed as a screaming good deal. You won't find anything even approaching their optical performance for that kind of money. (Yes, I grabbed a pair - for that price, I wasn't about to pass them up!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Can you make good decisions - and would your peers agree?

The March issue of Force Science News contained a very interesting article about how police and private citizens differ in their views of "justified" shootings.

While some may see the article as having application to law enforcement only, they would be wrong - it is well worth reading because it deals with differences in perception of a critical incident, differences which are not necessarily "cops vs. civilians" but more like "trained vs. untrained."

Private citizens are both more critical of decisions to shoot, yet simultaneously less skilled in making those decisions themselves. This has grave implications for those who carry concealed weapons for self-defense; it suggests that an untrained person might shoot with less justification, while at the same time be held to scrutiny that is not commensurate with the risks of an evolving scenario.

My take on the research is that it is imperative the person carrying a defensive firearm be very well trained in the judicious use of deadly force. (Sadly, very few are.) At the same time, that person has to retain defense counsel who can educate a jury in the dynamics of a deadly encounter, so that they can judge the defendant's actions more realistically. You need to be able to show the jury what you knew, and when you knew it.

Think carefully: how's your knowledge of the judicious use of force?

-=[ Grant ]=-