Self Defense Law for Dummies

Quite a few people have asked us about self defense, lately.  Must be something in the water.  Whatever the reason, it’s a question that a lot of people seem to be asking, so we figured we’d save ourselves from repeating the same conversation over and over, and just post the main points here.  (Of course, every state’s rules are different, but this is pretty much how it works.)

It’s really no different than the rules we gave our firstborn at the start of this school year, when he started coming home with tales of older kids trying to bully him.  (And by bullying, we don’t mean the modern usage, things like teasing or depriving one of self esteem.  We mean physically trying to injure our first-grader.)  Our rules were simple.  If some kid started bullying him, we said:

(1) Leave.  Go somewhere else.  If that’s impossible or they follow you, then…

(2) Get a teacher or some other grownup to stop it.  If that’s not working, and they really mean to hurt you, then…

(3) Hit first.  Hit hard.  And don’t stop hitting until they can’t hit you back any more.  There are no unfair moves.  Here’s some things you might try…

It seems to have worked.

Well, those are pretty much the rules that the law recognizes.  We didn’t think of it that way at the time, but those playground rules are the same rules we grownups are supposed to be playing by as well.  If someone’s trying to hurt you, then:

(1) Leave.  Go somewhere else.  (If you’re in your own home, then you don’t have to leave.  The law recognizes that it’s your last refuge.)

(2) If you can’t escape, then try to get the authorities to protect you.  (Yeah, we live in the real world too.  Fat chance.  But if it happens to be a possibility, then do it.)

(3) If that’s not going to work, then stop the attack.  Be reasonable — don’t use a gun if you’re not in mortal danger, but go ahead and use deadly force to save a life if you need to (and you can probably assume that someone breaking into your home poses a mortal threat).  The point is to stop the bad guy from doing bad things to you.  Whatever is necessary is, well, necessary.  Stop him.  Period.  Just don’t use more force than the situation calls for.  Don’t YOU be the bad guy.

If at any time you can escape, or get help, then of course go back to step 1 or 2.  That’s just common sense.

It’s really nothing more than avoiding overkill.  Be reasonable.  Nobody expects you to just let a bad guy hurt you or your loved ones.  But don’t go overboard.

Again, every state’s rules are slightly different.  But this is pretty much it.

If you were planning on writing in, we hope this answers your question.  (And if you have an actual real-life scenario, please call a lawyer where you live.  This ain’t legal advice.  It’s just a summary of the general rule.  Real life is not general.)

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