As a firearms instructor I am frequently asked by students if it wouldn’t be a good idea to shoot a warning shot before having to shoot another person in self-defense in their home. This is an honest and legitimate question asked by intelligent people who would prefer not to harm anyone if possible. I get very few questions that have a cut and dried answer, but this one does.
And that answer is an absolute NO! “But” you say, “Wouldn’t it be better to scare someone off than to have to kill them?” That is an admirable point of view, but when it comes to defending your life in your home, the answer again is NO!
Before I go any further, I need to emphasize that I am not an attorney and this article is not meant to be legal advice to anyone. If you carry or have in your home a firearms for self-defense I encourage you to contact your attorney and insure you understand the legalities of firearms use in your local jurisdiction.
To me, the argument against firing a warning shot fall into two basic categories: Legal and practical.
Firearms are pretty much defined as deadly weapons in all jurisdictions. Although interpreted and regulated differently in various jurisdictions, the justification for the use of deadly force is restricted to when there is no other option to defend yourself from imminent (immediate) threat of death or serious bodily injury to yourself or an innocent third-party. If you are in a situation to where you feel you have the time and opportunity to fire a warning shot, were you in imminent danger of death or seriously bodily injury? Probably not. And that is the way the law will probably look at it. In addition, your warning shot may be illegal in your jurisdiction in its own right. The law of gravity states that what goes up, must come down. The law in most states says you are responsible for whatever happens to any bullet you discharge from a handgun. If you fire a warning shot, where is that bullet going to go? Through your wall and into your neighbor’s house, and perhaps his head?
Here in Arizona we have a law called Shannon’s Law that makes it a felony to illegally discharge a weapon in a corporate city limit. Shannon Smith was a 14-year-old girl who was standing in her back yard talking on her cell phone when a bullet came out of the sky, hit her on the top of her head and killed her instantly. Do you think your warning shot doesn’t have that possibility too? I don’t know what the mathematical odds of that happening to that poor girl were, but it didn’t change the outcome. The corporate office building that I supervise security at sits across the street from an apartment complex. Last July 5th, my client came to me quietly and asked me to look at something. On one of the third floor exterior windows a 230gr .45acp bullet was lodged between the two panes of glass. Later that day my Officers found two more of them in our parking lot. Although they were undoubtedly from some Fourth of July revelers, the same effect would happen if one of them was a” warning shot”. What goes up, must come down, and you are legally and morally responsible for the results of any firearm you discharge for any reason.
When this question comes up in one of my classes, I ask my students if any of them have ever fired a handgun in an enclosed room, in darkness, and with no hearing protection. So far none of them have. I then inform them that two things will happen immediately and simultaneously. They will be blinded by the muzzle flash and deafened by the sound. Blind and deaf is not a good place to be when you are dealing with an intruder in your home. In addition, the intruder doesn’t know that you were just trying to warn him, will assume that you just tried to kill him and missed, and instead of running away may try to aggressively kill you in “self-defense.” And remember, you are now deaf and blind after deliberately missing him!
There are some viable options to try to warn off an intruder before lethal deadly force must be used. If you are using a modern semi-automatic pistol that has the attachment rails, a mountable flashlight can be useful. There are many on the market which have a strobe feature that will blind your intruder and give you the option of verbally warning him and seeing if he is armed. If your handgun is not so equipped, a standard flashlight will do and you need to be trained in the proper techniques of holding a handgun and using a flashlight at the same time.
The bottom line is that there is never any justification to fire warning shots.
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