It seems everyone has a word of advice for any situation one might face, and this includes the unlikely but complicated possibility of a defensive shooting. Unfortunately, not all advice is equal. Just because it sounds good, or comes from someone who appears confident and intelligent, does not mean it is actually good advice.
Shoot Until He’s Dead
I hear this one a lot. I don’t think it grows out of some sort of bloodthirsty desire to kill anyone, but rather out of a fear that the assailant will manage to inflict harm on you after you thought he was down for the count. Movies don’t help in this regard. We are all affected by popular culture whether we admit it or not, and anyone who sees enough television shows or movies is going to see someone who was presumed dead suddenly rise up and come after the good guy. It even happens in operas – bad guys and heroes alike get run through with a sword and still manage to wreak revenge (or at least sing a long aria about it). I remember watching an old show when I was a teenager, and after the heroine bashed her assailant with a shovel she turned her back on him, and I, familiar with the traditional plot twists, was yelling “Hit him again! He’s not dead!” and I was right…. he got up and did her in. However, as you are probably aware, popular culture is not a good place to get your legal advice.
Why Are You Shooting Him?
Yes, it pretty much comes down to motivation. You are not shooting him in order to kill him. You are shooting him to make the threat stop. The laws about when you are allowed to use deadly force vary from one state to another, and some cities have their own laws. But when you have reached the point where using your firearm is permitted, the way you use it and the motivation behind that use still matter. If you are allowed in your area to use deadly force to stop an imminent threat to life or to prevent grievous bodily injury, then you may shoot only until that threat is gone. If the assailant falls down, you may have reached that point. Despite the adrenaline and fear, you have to constantly assess whether the next shot must be fired. If he’s on the ground and he’s raising his gun up, he’s still a threat. If he’s on the ground and not moving, you had better hold your fire. I’m not saying you should ignore him, because he might present a threat again, but get your finger off the trigger. This is a good time to keep your firearm trained on him and scan the area in case he has a buddy who intends harm. Don’t put your gun down until you see that the police are showing up and can take over.
Defending Yourself Because You Defended Yourself
You may very well end up in court after a defensive shooting. If you kept putting rounds into your assailant after he was incapacitated, it might not go well for you. In addition, even if no criminal charges are filed against you, many states will allow a civil case to be brought, and a sympathetic jury might award huge damages to the surviving family. It doesn’t matter if the bad guy was obviously out to kill you, and the legal system said you were justified; you could lose a civil suit and be bankrupt. And let me take this opportunity to mention that everything you have put on social media sites will be looked at – if you make comments about hoping you get to shoot someone, or about how you would make sure a criminal wound up good and dead, that will come out and it will be used against you. Now is a good time for an attitude adjustment.
Shoot only when you must, and stop when you can.