When Is It Legal to Go Lethal? 8 Tips on the Limits of Self-Defense

If you are legally carrying a firearm, or if you have one safely stored in your home, you fully intend on using that firearm lethally should the need arise. It is not your intent to wave it around or point it at someone just to threaten them. You are to legally draw that gun only to defend your life or the lives of others. But, what does the law specifically say? What conditions must be met in order to shoot?

The laws vary somewhat from state to state, but I will draw upon my home state's laws (Ohio) to explain. You can find a summary of Ohio's conceal and carry laws here. For all other states look at your attorney general's website. In addition to the following information, I must state plainly that I am not an attorney. If you have any questions at all about your state's laws, consult a lawyer.

Here are some prerequisites and guidelines in order to use lethal force legally.

1. You must not be the instigator.

This means you did not start the incident. You did not escalate anything. You cannot be brandishing a firearm, hurling challenges, or in general "egging on" a confrontation. You were minding your own business. If you throw the first punch or attack in any way, you are the aggressor.

2. You must be under threat of bodily harm or death.

In order to legally kill someone in self-defence, you must be convinced that you have a reasonable and honest belief that the aggressor intends to inflict severe bodily harm or death upon your person. Just someone saying "mean words" or even threatening to kill you is NOT justification to use lethal force. The aggressor must be doing something more than just saying words you don't like. You have to have a sincere belief that you are about to be severely injured or killed, and you MUST be able to convince a jury!

If you are a middle-aged female, and a 250 pound, six-foot-tall young man is coming at you in a threatening way, the chances are good that you are in grave danger, and you could probably convince a jury of that. (Also, in Ohio and probably other states, rape meets the criteria of "severe bodily harm" and justifies the use of lethal force. I know that sounds rather obvious, but it still needs to be spelled out.)

Next Page: Why firing a warning shot is a BAD idea.