I have heard them all myself – the bad ideas people like to share with others. The problem is that these bad ideas don’t always sound bad at first – sometimes they have a certain logic to them that can fool the listener into thinking they are actually good ideas. No, I am not talking about politics (although a lot of bad ideas masquerading as good ones find their way into that field) – I am talking about what to do if you are ever involved in a defensive shooting. Something that seems to make sense at first glance could actually get you into a whole world of trouble after the fact, and you really want to make sure the advice you take in is sensible and tested. If you carry a gun for self-defense, you need to examine your attitudes and beliefs about what you should and shouldn’t do if the day arrives that you have to draw that gun and take action.
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“Warn Them Off”
Ah, the famous warning shot. This is a popular thought…you may even recall a major politician recommending blasting a shotgun into the air as a deterrent. Remember what I said about politicians and bad ideas? This is one of them…and you will hear many of your friends, including those who own guns and should know better, bringing up warning shots as well. It’s a fairly common bit of advice, because it almost makes sense. You don’t really want to shoot anyone, after all. Even if it’s necessary and is ruled justified, a defensive shooting embroils you in the legal system: a stressful, frightening and expensive process at best. And many people suffer emotional trauma after having to dispatch a bad guy. He was someone’s little baby once. Obviously, something went drastically wrong between little-baby stage and needing-shooting stage, but he is still a human being. So, why not fire a warning shot to let him know you are armed and serious?
That’s Your Bullet
Well, for starters, when you fire a warning shot, a piece of lead goes tearing off at deadly speed into the great unknown. It has to land somewhere. It could wind up in a house or a car or a person. If your warning shot heads next door and hits a four-year-old in her bedroom, you are responsible for shooting her. It doesn’t matter what your intentions were; the law is going to deal with you based on the results of your action. If you have received even beginning training with your firearm, you will have learned to know your target and what is around it, because you need to shoot only when a miss won’t result in damage to people or property. Warning shots violate that rule. The bad guy is your target, and if his body doesn’t stop the bullet something else will.
Ammo for the Prosecutor
There is another, more subtle danger to the warning shot. If you are brought to trial over a defensive shooting, every thing you did will be picked apart and scrutinized. You may think a warning shot makes you look restrained, but a jury might see it as brandishing, or as escalating the event. A prosecutor might make the case that if you had time to point the gun away from the aggressor and waste a round on a warning shot, you also had time and distance to retreat. Fairly or unfairly, your life and freedom are measured by how your actions are perceived, not necessarily by what your intentions actually were.
Warning shots sound like a reasonable option, and they look cool in the movies, but they just are not advisable. No warning shots, ever.