The United States in general, and California in particular has seen a marked increase in the granting of concealed carry licenses. Contrary to many hand wringers who might get a case of the vapors at the mere sight of a firearm, there has not been blood running in the streets as a result of increased armed citizens. With some notable exceptions (which, ironically have the largest crime rates) most counties in California now allow people to carry a firearm, concealed, as they go about their daily lives. And this is a good thing. It gives Americans the choice. Don’t like guns? Great, don’t buy one, don’t carry one. Want the best tool to protect your family or self? A firearm is the universal equalizer, giving the elderly frail woman the ability to successfully fight off a group of younger, stronger, attackers.
So, when can one use a firearm for self-defense? That is a difficult question that has no solid answer. The reason for this is simple. Each fact pattern is different. A small change in the facts, may mean a gigantic difference in court. But some principles and concepts are well established and should be internalized for those carrying a gun.
First, know and embody the four basic rules of firearms safety. We teach these and review them at every class at California Tactical Academy. We do not fire a single shot in class without discussing these rules. One point we always stress is this: these are not range rules – the four rules are tactical rules. They will help prevent a tragedy resulting from poor tactics or poor gun handling. While an in-depth discussion of the rules is beyond the scope of this writing, by way of brief reminder, the rules are as follows.
1. Treat all firearms as loaded
2. Keep you finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire
3. Never let the muzzle cover anything you don’t want to destroy
4. Know your target and what is beyond it
Before you ever even consider carrying a concealed firearm, take some time to know when you can deploy a gun in self-defense. The law in this area is very complicated but should not be daunting to those with some time and consideration. We can distill basic laws of self defense to the following. A person may use deadly force to defend themselves or another person where there is a quantifiable threat of death, or serious bodily injury. The fear of such violence must be reasonable to an objective viewer, and simple bare fear does not suffice to support deadly force. In other words, you cannot say you were afraid, you must have a fact pattern that supports your fear.
To support such fear, we look for three factors.
First – someone must have a weapon capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. And yes, simple body weapons such as hands or feet could suffice. George Zimmerman is a good example of using deadly force to respond to a threat of death or serious bodily injury at the hands of another. Darren Wilson is another good example. In both cases, the victim was attacked by a larger, stronger assailant and in both cases, deadly force (a firearm) was used successfully to stop the attack.
Second – we look for the attacker to demonstrate intent. This demonstration can manifest itself by either words or actions. Someone swinging and ax, stating they want to chop your head off would be a good example of expressed intent. Someone swinging an ax and running towards you with no other apparent reason, but to chop your head off, would be a good example of implied intent.
Finally – the assailant must have the opportunity to use the weapon as intended. A person with a knife, stating they are going to stab you does not have the means of using the weapon if they are on the other side of a large chain link fence. The same person climbs, the fence and is now on your side. This changes the dynamics and now we have a person with a weapon, the stated intent to use it, and the opportunity to use it.
Carrying a firearm in your daily life comes with other responsibilities. For example, you must know where you can legally carry a gun. Each city or county will have different ordinances and laws. Generally speaking, Federal Buildings and Post Offices are off limits to firearms. Schools, including colleges and universities, will not allow firearms except in certain cases. Beyond this, private businesses can also have rules that might impact your decision to carry a gun. You might work in an office or business that has specific and enumerated rules about firearms on the property. It is the responsibility of the individual to know these rules.
A person carrying a concealed firearm must also take responsibility to ensure the firearm remains concealed unless needed. For some people, this means they will alter how they dress. If you carry your handgun on the strong side hip (our recommendation) then you will likely need a shirt or jacket to keep it covered during your daily activities. Again, we live in a State where large population centers do not allow concealed carry permits and so many of the people in these areas will be alarmed to see someone, other than law enforcement, with a gun.
There are a host of other considerations surrounding the carrying and use of a firearm. Seek out competent training and education on the matter before you take on this responsibility because besides training in the proper and effective use of a firearm, a concealed carrier must be well versed in how and when they can carry and deploy their firearm. Getting well rounded training, which includes decision making skills and discussion surrounding the lawful use of firearms, is one of the best ways to prepare for what might be a life altering event.
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