Armed Women of America
Legal Considerations of Firearms
March 2, 2022 | View PDF
I recently discussed several important things to do and to consider in the aftermath of a self-defense shooting. Today we’ll discuss three important factors that help determine whether or not a shooting is justified, including the ability factor, the opportunity factor, and the jeopardy factor.
Using lethal force for self-defense is only justified in situations of immediate danger of death or great bodily harm to oneself or other innocent persons. Often times a court of law will determine if a self-defense shooting is justified based on whether the person you’re defending yourself from had the ability to harm you, the opportunity to harm you, and the intent to harm you (you were legitimately in jeopardy).
The ability factor means your assailant possesses the power to kill or to inflict crippling injury on you. Often times this power takes the form of a weapon. However, it may also be a disparity of force between you and your assailant. For example, a 6’3”, 250-pound male clearly has the ability to cause significant harm to a 5’2”, 120-pound female based on sheer size and power. Things get a little murkier when considering two men of equal stature, which is why the other two factors are important to consider.
The opportunity factor means your assailant has the power to carry out their ability to harm you in the here and now. A big component of this is the distance element. Did you know that the average person can run 21 yards in about 1.5 seconds, roughly the amount of time it takes for someone to draw their weapon from their holster and shoot it? This fact has led to the “21-foot rule” in which some people believe that all shootings that occur within 21 feet are justified since your assailant could easily have the chance to attack you before you could defend yourself. However, there are many flaws in this “rule” and while it can be thought of as a general rule of thumb, it is not guaranteed to always stand up in a court of law. Other elements of the opportunity factor include obstacles (were there any obstacles you could have used instead to protect yourself?) and timing (was the threat actually imminent?).
Lastly, the jeopardy factor refers to words or actions of your assailant that a reasonable person would construe as an intent to kill or seriously harm you. This is the most subjective factor and sometimes the hardest to prove, especially if there are no other witnesses. Body language and verbal language are key aspects of determining this. Important body cues to pick up on are scowling, clenching of the fists, stepping into a fighter’s stance, staring at the target, etc. These are subtle cues that give important information about what your assailant’s intents could be.
Let’s take what we learned and apply it to the home invasion scenario I’ve been discussing for the last few weeks in which a man breaks into your home, breaks down your bedroom door, and raises his gun at you, though your spouse shoots him before he is able to shoot you. In this scenario the man has the ability to harm you because he has a gun. He has the opportunity to harm you because he is standing well within firing distance and has the gun pointed at you. He also has the intent to harm you since he broke down a locked door and has a gun pointed at you. Obviously, this is a pretty clear-cut scenario that I use for simplicity sake. Please realize that most actual real-life scenarios are not as cut and dry and the 3 factors discussed in this article are critical in determining whether lethal force was justified. As always, please remember that none of the information in my articles should be construed as legal advice nor is it a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome- positive, negative, or otherwise. Please consult your attorney and your local and state laws and regulations for any legal issues.
In my next article I’ll wrap up this series on legal considerations by talking about important rules and laws such as the castle doctrine, “make my day law”, duty to retreat, etc. To find out more about legal considerations of owning a firearm, home defense, self-defense, and firearms, please join us for the Armed Women of America (AWA) Sterling Chapter meeting on March 19th from 9 am to 11 am at the Logan County Shooting Sports complex, 12515 Highway 61/2nd Amendment Way off Highway 61 Sterling.
Prospective members are welcome to attend their first meeting before joining. If you would like to become a member, you can join online at www.twawshootingchapters.org. Women over 18 interested in learning more can contact Andrea Stump at [email protected] or visit TWAW Shooting Chapters, Inc. website at www.twawshootingchapters.org. You can also like us on Facebook @twawsterlingcolorado or stop by Boondocks Army Surplus at 324 N 4th Street in Sterling and pick up a flyer.