When Can You Use Force To Save Yourself From an Attacker?
Firearm sales are reaching record highs as citizens want to be able to protect themselves from criminals who take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis and protest-related violence. Retailers say that customers, many of them first-time gun owners, are looking for shotguns that start at around $300, and handguns that they can use with a state concealed pistol license (CPL).
Joel Fulton, owner of Freedom Firearms in Battle Creek says March was a big sales month, and May was a record-setting sales month. “I’m having a hard time keep shotguns, and some handguns in stock.”
Fulton, who also operates Southside Sportsman Gun Range at 539 Capital Avenue SW in Battle Creek, says they’re continuing to offer CPL training courses. “We’ve had to cut the class size down from 27 to about 9, due to social distancing, but we’re still holding classes.” One of the functions of those classes is to teach gun owners about their rights and responsibilities.
Legally, what can and what can’t you do in defending yourself?
A listener called in this week to describe that some angry protesters had surrounded his truck at a stoplight, and were banging on the hood. He said he was armed, but luckily the situation did not escalate.
Calhoun County Prosecutor Dave Gilbert and Battle Creek Police Chief addressed the situation on the WBCK Morning Show with Tim Collins. Both stressed that the best thing to do if you can is to avoid the situation if you can. And both said to call 911 immediately if there’s an incident. But can you put the car in gear and drive forward? Prosecutor Gilbert says, “If you’re stuck if you can’t back up, what do you do? You have a right to protect yourself and your family members from death or great bodily harm and if you reasonably believe that you are in that danger, you can take some action but you must be very, very careful. If you over-react, you could end up being charged with something too.”
Terry Johnson, an attorney with Firearms Legal Protection, LLC was a guest on the WBCK Morning Show. He is one of several hundred attorneys who are part of a legal services company, advised by law enforcement, and dedicated to protecting the rights of lawful gun owners. “When you’re in your vehicle, the best thing you can do is look for an escape route”, said Johnson. He says if you use a vehicle as a weapon, there will be a lot of questions and you could be prosecuted. “You have to be extremely careful when you do that.”
Johnson also pointed out that many gun owners open themselves to prosecution by simply showing a gun. “You cannot point a gun at anyone from inside the vehicle. You almost have to wait for someone to attempt to come into your vehicle before you can use lethal force. The standard is whether or not you think you are in imminent fear of death, great bodily harm, or criminal sexual assault. If you’re in fear of one of those, then, of course, you can use lethal force to protect yourself.”
As more and more Americans buy guns for home defense, there are things that Johnson says you need to know. “If you look out your window at night and someone is tampering with your vehicle, under Michigan law you can NOT protect property with lethal force.” But what if that person starts coming your way with a gun or a knife?
“That could potentially change it, but how far away are they? What kind of weapon is it? A knife versus a gun. There are a lot of what-if scenarios. Again, the standard is whether or not you think you are in imminent fear of death, great bodily harm, or criminal sexual assault.” He says the key is the word “imminent”. Just being in fear of one’s life is not the same from a legal standpoint.
And Johnson says if a homeowner does have to use lethal force, they should simply not talk to the police when they arrive. Talk to an attorney first, and do it quickly. He says some people may spend a day or two in jail and make an unwise statement to get out.