It has happened. That event that you always hoped would never occur under your watch: having to use a firearm in self-defense. Whether you had to pull the trigger or not, you now have several things to worry about. Will you be charged? Go to jail? Stripped of your guns? Sued? Lets talk about that.

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The 3-legs of self-defense

As a firearms instructor for both concealed carriers and security/law enforcement, I spend a lot of my time talking about the proper (legal and ethical) use of force. Now, force can be anything from just being there and looking at someone all the way up to taking a life.

According to decades of research in police shootings, the FBI determined that the average number of rounds fired in a gunfight is 3-4. However, there are few studies done and little hard data to discern the number of rounds fired in the average civilian use of force. This being said, there is no true guideline as to how many shots are needed to end a violent attack. In fact, in many cases the mere presentation of a firearm by a gun owner refusing to be a victim is enough for the average street goon to break contact and rapidly depart.

However, never introduce a firearm into a situation in which you aren't prepared to commit to using it.

First off, to keep on the side of right, you are never the aggressor. By definition this puts you behind the 8-ball of having to respond to an unjust threat presented to you by no reason of your own. Yes, it sucks, but that's self-defense.

A good test of if self-defense is justified is the old 3-legs of ability, opportunity, and intent. Let us talk about that.

Ability: Someone can physically hurt you or someone under your care enough to maim or kill. For instance, they have a knife, or a gun, or could be a linebacker for the Seahawks. Example: Say you have a person in front of you who says they are fixing to kill you, but it is a four-year-old kid with no weapon. That person, even though they have the opportunity to harm you and have voiced the intent to do so, simply cannot.

Opportunity: They are there, in front of you, right now. For instance, someone who threatens you via text message five years ago and the next time you see them the first thing you do is light them up with a flamethrower would not satisfy the test of opportunity to inflict harm on you.

Intent: They have to be actively trying to hurt you or at least advertising it. For instance, a man at a gun show trying to sell you a rifle may have the ability and the opportunity to kill you, but has he said or acted as if he was? No. You have to have that intent.

All three of these are key to judging self-defense. Satisfying just one or two does not count, but all three taken together are everything. Remember, all bullets end up in court.

As far as use of force goes, consult a local attorney familiar with the laws in your state and community for proper legal advice beforehand in regards to your protections under "stand your ground" or "castle doctrine" in your jurisdiction, or alternatively, if you have an obligation to flee if able.

Is every DGU lethal?

By all means no. It is estimated by Kleck and Gertz there are between 1 to 2.5 million DGUs in the United States each year. Now when you take into account the fact that there were 32,351 firearms deaths in the U.S. in 2013 according to CDC figures, its blatantly obvious that a small fraction of DGUs in the country end up in death.

When you further understand that the CDC figure includes accidental gun deaths, straight up homicides, and suicides, the figure gets even smaller. In fact, according to, just 201justifyable homicides by citizens occurred in all of 2011. When you contrast the number of DGUs by this, you come up with that figure that for only 1 out of every 5000 self-defense instances using a firearm results in the bad guy's demise.

But what happens if you have to pull the trigger?

Shooting to end the threat

Should you have to use that firearm, engage the threat until it is no longer one. Aim for the center mass, preferably down and into the high thoracic cavity down to the pelvic girdle. You are not shooting to wound or shooting to kill. You are shooting to end the immediate threat to yourself.

Once rounds have been fired, watch your threat and continue to assess it for your own safety while scanning the area around you.

Still, even if a shot isn't fired, there can be repercussions to include brandishing to think about. With that being said, you need to consider...

Your legal self-defense

First off, shut up. While yes, you have nothing to hide, its still best not to talk to the police without the help of legal counsel to avoid having to try and correct a confused statement given under stress and later taken out of context. As part of your civil rights, if you cannot afford an attorney, one can be appointed for you on behalf of the court.

Second, shut up. Do not talk to the media about the incident. Last year an 80-year old man shot a burglar in his home and, instead of shutting up and not saying anything that could be taken the wrong way, he told the media an inflated story about how he shot one of the prowlers, a pregnant woman, in the back that ended up with him potentially facing charges.

Well it turned out that he was just talking tough for the press and forensic evidence saved him from himself.

Third, shut up. If you have friends and family ask you of the event at the time or even twenty years in the future, it's best to politely say that you would rather not talk about it.

Again, this is not hiding anything but consider this. What happens if you tell an acquaintance exactly and correctly, what occurred, then they retell the story to someone else and leave out a detail or, worse, elaborate and add something that did not occur. This now very different story is now out there with your name tied to it that has the potential to make its way back to prosecutors or investigators who will be very curious as to why it doesn't match what you told them.

What's going to happen?

You will have to give an official statement for investigators. This can lead to future interviews that will likely be recorded or transcribed, especially if a justifiable homicide has occurred. Your firearm may be impounded for the duration of the investigation and if this occurs, it may be a good idea to try to take a picture of your gun in the condition that it is collected.

Also, record the make, model, evidence tag number, and manufacturer's serial number for your piece of mind. I've had to reclaim a gun from an evidence room that was less than organized and absolutely knowing your serial number is a must.

Even if a criminal investigation by the local prosecutors and/or grand jury clears you of any wrongdoing and deems the shooting valid and in accordance with all state laws on self-defense, you may still be sued in civil court by the person shot or their survivors. The burden of proof in a civil case to prove negligence in a wrongful death lawsuit is very different-- just ask OJ.

If you do wind up being served, seek legal counsel and consider a counter suit if possible.

In the end, hope a DGU doesn't happen but if it does, make sure you have your 'T's crossed.

Disclaimer: The information contained herein is for informational purposes only as a service to the public, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.