My company teaches a range of defensive firearms classes including Arizona Concealed Carry. And it never ceases to amaze me how few people have ever really seriously considered the ramifications of using deadly force against another human being, either in a current Rule of Law situation, or even TEOTWAWKI Without Rule Of Law.
Lets get the legalities out of the way. I am NOT an attorney, and nothing in this article should be considered legal advice. You should always talk to an attorney in the jurisdiction in which you live about this issue.
Many law-abiding citizens are arming themselves for personal defense currently, or to defend themselves in a survival situation. (assuming they live in a jurisdiction that allows it. I know I have an international readership and many of you live in countries where self-defense is almost impossible. This article is primarily for US readers but the part on post TEOTWAWKI might have relevance to you).
And many of these people train with their defensive armament, but never consider when and if they might actually have to kill another human being. And under what circumstances would or could they do it. It is a subject that you had better think about long and hard before you are placed in that situation. Shooting at a target on the range is a far cry from shooting at another moving human being who is shooting at you. And especially if just six months ago he was your next door neighbor and you had frequent social gatherings together. And your wives were best friends. You prepped. He didn’t.
Beyond the physical manipulation of you weapons (skill at arms) there are two considerations you need to seriously take into account: Legalities and morality. And these two issues will apply differently depending on whether your situation happens in a Rule Of Law environment, or a Without Rule Of Law environment. Lets look at both.
Rule Of Law Environment
Although there are many differences in various jurisdictions, there are some general principles that apply. There are basically two types of force. Physical Force and Deadly Physical Force. Either of these can be either lawful or unlawful. As a rule of thumb, the law generally only allows you to use that level of force that is being used against you. If someone is using unlawful physical force (hitting, punching, biting, etc.) you can use the same level of force to defend yourself. Unlawful physical force is generally not necessarily considered life threatening. But if someone uses unlawful deadly force (shooting, cutting, attacking with any type of weapon, etc.) then you would usually be justified in using lawful deadly force to defend yourself. The criteria usually are would a reasonable person in your situation believe that they were in immanent danger of death or serious bodily injury. Again, various jurisdiction have different takes on these concepts. Most places do not require that you attempt to retreat first but some do. Some jurisdictions have Castle Doctrines and some don’t. Basically, you only have the right to use deadly force to defend your life or the life of an innocent third-party.
Here is a quick scenario on the use of force continuum. A party crasher enters your home while you are entertaining guests and is drunk, loud and boisterous. You ask him to leave and he refuses. You try to physically put him out the door and he strikes you, You strike him back and he pulls a knife and tries to cut you. You pull your gun and shoot him. The situation went from verbal to physical to deadly physical with you only using that level of force that was used against you. Simplistic, but it explains the concept. In most places you do not have the right to use deadly force against someone running out of your house with you TV or driving off in your car. MOST jurisdictions will place the value of human life above the value of your property. KNOW the laws where you live. Deadly force should always be the LAST resort, All the preps in the world will do you no good if you are sharing a jail cell with Bubba when SHTF.
Something that most people do not consider is how much even a righteous lawful self-defense shooting is going to cost them financially. It will run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Fortunately, there are self-defense insurance policies you can buy at a reasonable cost that will help you in more ways than one. I recommend you research them and buy it if you can afford to do so. The truth is, you really cannot afford not to.
Conclusion: In a Rule of Law environment, it behooves you to KNOW the laws of your jurisdiction. Invest in good self-defense insurance. It is just as valuable as the insurance on your life, house, and car. If not more so. If the law itself places you in jeopardy, consider moving if you can. That is why I now live in Arizona
Without The Rule Of Law
Now things get problematic. If you are in a SHTF situation Without Rule of Law, then to some degree you are your own law. If there are no Police or government still functioning then a large number of people are going to take advantage of that to do anything they want or feel desperate enough to do. Looting, arson, rape, murder, the list goes on. You have a moral right to defend you and yours and the things you have that keep you alive. The prohibition against taking human life to protect property is not going to be valid if the property is the food and water you need to survive on, and without which you will die. Many preppers who plan their survival for a WROL situation often overlook one critical factor though. Total WROL will not last forever.
WROL creates a vacuum and all vacuums have to be filled. The original “authority” may eventually re-establish itself and require people to give an accounting of themselves. An example would be the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. A new “authority” may evolve. People are going to form groups which will develop social norms or “laws” , and they may try to force or enforce those laws on anyone they come into contact with. Even on a local personal level you have to consider the effects of your actions. You may feel smug justification for shooting the kid who was stealing your carrots out of your garden, but his father, older brothers, uncles and cousins, who are all heavily armed, may not see it your way. Always keep in mind that you may very well be held accountable for your actions, even if totally justified, at some point down the road by somebody. As a practical, tactical matter, it is a good idea to avoid using deadly physical force unless you have no choice.
Conclusion: Even in a WROL situation, you need to use good judgement before you use deadly force. The former Rule of Law may return at some point, or be replaced by a new version. And you want to avoid at all possible making serious enemies of other armed people unless you absolutely have no other choice.
When Killing Is Necessary
There are combat veterans, seasoned Police officers and even average citizens who have been forced by job or necessity to take human life. They understand what the experience can do to you. But I suspect that a tremendous number of decent people who are properly preparing have not had that experience. They soberly arm themselves and practice with their weaponry frequently. The problem is that many of them have not moved beyond the simulated paper target stage. For far too many honest people, actually using their weaponry on another live human being is still thought about in the abstract. If “They” come at me I will shoot. If “They” attempt to steal my food I will shoot “them”. “They” may be highly armed thugs that are running around looting, robbing, and raping. And having to kill these types in self defense is more than morally justified. But what if “They” are former neighbors that you know personally. Could you really pull the trigger? What if “they” are a group of feral children (and in a TEOTWAWKI situation, there will be a lot of those) can you pull the trigger on a 10 year old even if he is pointing a shotgun in your direction demanding food? Or stealing the last 5 gallons of water you have? And how are you going to deal with it afterwards? Can you? You better know the answers to these questions before hand.
I’m not trying to be melodramatic here. But these are serious realities you may face. Nothing can totally prepare you for the moment you have to kill another human being, or even a lot of other human beings. In the military, new units and new soldiers train extensively. But then they must go through a “Baptism of Fire”.
So how does someone who has never had this kind of experience realistically prepare themselves? Of course, skill at arms is important. Know your weapons and how to use them thoroughly. But you need to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally as much as possible. Forget the hype, macho slogans, and especially Hollywood. You need to at least understand the mental and emotional aspects of killing another human being, and the effects it can have on you. At least mentally understanding these things will help you prepare to effectively use deadly physical force if necessary. And to come to terms with it.
A tremendous amount of research has been done on the psychological and physiological effects of killing. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman is an internationally recognized scholar, author, soldier, and speaker who is one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of human aggression and the roots of violence and violent crime. He has written two books that I think would be highly useful reading for anyone who is anticipating having to participate in serious deadly incidents in order to survive . On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. This was his first book. Many people do not know that only 1 in 8 Army Infantrymen fired their rifles in combat in WW2, whereas almost all crew served weapons gunners did. There is a psychological reason for this and this book will explain it. You can learn a lot about the types of thinking and emotions you will experience in a deadly situation. His second book, On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace is a followup to his first. From the Amazon page, “On Combat looks at what happens to the human body under the stresses of deadly battle and the impact on the nervous system, heart, breathing, visual and auditory perception, memory – then discusses new research findings as to what measure warriors can take to prevent such debilitations, so they can stay in the fight, survive, and win. A brief but insightful look at history shows the evolution of combat, the development of the physical and psychological leverage that enables humans to kill other humans, followed by an objective examination of domestic violence in America. The authors reveal the nature of the warrior, brave men and women who train their minds and bodies to go to that place from which others flee. “
As many of us continue to say, your mind is your best weapon. All of the best equipment in the world is no good if you are mentally unprepared to deal with serious and immediate violence, both when it happens and afterwards. Thinking about these issues in a sober manner, and then understanding what has happened to those before you will help you to at least know what to expect. And that gives you a better chance to survive.