Good thread idea. This is a topic that’s been of personal interest since I took my first firearms class, mandated by CT law in order to buy a handgun in CT at the time. Since then I’ve taken several other classes and read many books, credible blogs and other material on the subject.
I AM NOT AN EXPERT. NOTHING I WRITE SHOULD BE CONSIDERED LEGAL ADVICE. IT IS UP TO YOU TO KNOW THE LAWS IN YOUR JURISDICTION AND THOSE YOU TRAVEL TO. THIS THREAD IS FOR ENTERTAINMENT AND INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.
With that out of the way, I’d like a place to discuss all things lethal force related. We have LEO’s and lawyers on this forum who cough might even chime in. Keep in mind that lethal force and deadly force are the same thing, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
I originally had this in PWI, but I’d prefer to keep the conversation centered around how things are, not how someone might like them to be, so I moved it to the Combat forum. That said, it’s open game on discussing borderline cases, incidents from different countries, varying courses of action and whatever other lethal force rabbit holes there are to be explored that may result in disagreement. Disagreement is fine.
Let’s just not turn it into a gun control discussion or anything resembling it. Start another thread if you want to talk policy.
What is lethal force?
Deadly force is generally defined as physical force which, under the circumstances in which it is used, is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury. In order for deadly force to be justified there must be an immediate, otherwise unavoidable threat of death or grave bodily harm to yourself or other innocents. Deadly force is that force which could reasonably be expected to cause death or grave bodily harm.
I can’t speak for cops. Perhaps @JMaier31 will be kind enough to share his thoughts.
As a civilian, I suppose the answer to that question is “Yes”, or at least in can be in the right circumstances. It really depends on what you mean by “SURE”. Violent situations materialize quite quickly, requiring a VERY important judgement call on-the-spot. A few conditions need to be present for lethal force to be justified in defense of self.
Imagine if you will a naked me, dancing around drunk and yelling all manner of threats. What are you to make of this? It would be nice if you bought me a shot and gave me some pants, but it’s probably in your interests to steer clear of me on this occasion. Now let’s pretend escape is not an immediate option. Let’s talk about when you should pull out your gun and shoot me, just to be safe.
The brief definition I linked above gives you a primer on justification of lethal force. There are many important details that can be discussed, but for now we will focus on the test of Ability, Opportunity and Jeopardy.
Ability. I’m a big guy. Most people aren’t anywhere close to my size or strength. Depending on the other person, this can create a condition called “disparity of force” (which is another rabbit hole we could go down), even in the absence of weapons. It is the same notion with multiple attackers. Even unarmed, you’ve got a real possibility of death or great bodily harm coming to you. You wouldn’t know this if you didn’t know me, but I can also reliably break bones and cut off your brain’s blood supply. I’m a super nice guy, but killing someone with my bare hands is easily within my ability, as is severely maiming or injuring them.
Again, you don’t know anything about me except I’m big and unarmed, which is part of what you need to think about when you wonder what makes you “SURE” of a threat. You really have no idea what someone is capable of until they put hands on you and it starts to happen.
Long story short, the ability of inflicting death or great bodily harm requires no weapons, especially when disparity of force is present. On the flip side, I’d have a very hard time explaining myself in court if I shot an unarmed man who weighed 120 lbs and claimed self-defense.
Opportunity. If I’m yelling threats at you while dancing around buck naked on the other side of a river, it doesn’t matter what I say. I do not have the opportunity to harm you in that moment, even if I intended to. If I’m doing the same thing ten feet away from you with open space in between us, the opportunity for me to bring death or great bodily harm is now present.
A firearm in my hand would change that, because I’d have both the opportunity and ability to inflict death or great bodily harm on you from across that river.
Jeopardy, aka Intent. Now let’s pretend I’m yelling “I’m going to kill you!”. If I’m doing it across that river, naked and clearly unarmed, I lack the opportunity even if I have the intent and ability. Now that I’ve found my way across the river and 10 feet away from you, you’ve got something to think about.
You’re being faced with a very large man who is clearly unarmed. I’m screaming that I’m going to kill you. I’m only 10 feet away and moving towards you.
Do you pull out your gun and shoot? Stab me with a knife? Maybe you draw your gun and order me to go way or get down on the ground. I just keep coming.
Again, we’re pretending you can’t get away for whatever reason. Escape isn’t always an option. Sometimes attempting escape is woven into law with another rabbit-hole topic called “Duty to Retreat”.
What do you do? Do you do nothing and hope for the best? Do you wait until I’ve already put hands on you? Do you shoot me as I’m closing the distance as I say “I’m going to kill you”?
Are you SURE?
This is, of course, a silly and contrived scenario, but I’d advise that you shoot me the moment all three of those conditions are met. You may have just another second or two to decide before the dynamic changes dramatically. Once I get hands on someone they’re in trouble, unless they’re a better fighter than I am OR better armed AND able to deploy that force against me. If neither of those are true, it is up to ME, the assailant, to decide when I’ve assaulted you enough.
What do you do?