Could Self-Defense Send You to Prison?

You've just been involved in a shooting. Justified or not, your life is changed forever.

Editor's note: The following is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed as legal advice. For legal advice, consult your attorney.

As producer of Personal Defense TV, I'm fortunate to be involved in a lot of training in preparation for a personal defense encounter. Situational awareness, avoidance, threat levels, front sight, press--all are key elements in avoiding, deescalating or winning an attempted attack.

This past season, while training with Marty and Gila Hayes at Firearms Academy of Seattle, I was reminded that there's another very important component to successful personal defense, and that's being prepared for what happens to you legally after being involved in a personal defense shooting.

Do you have any idea what will happen once the police arrive after you've defended yourself?

I wouldn't go so far as to say I had an epiphany on the subject; after all, legally armed citizens should have some awareness that if they're involved in any kind of shooting there will be an investigation. But after speaking with Marty and Gila, the indicator light came on in my head warning me that I really had no clue as to how precarious the legal landscape can be after a personal defense shooting.

Marty and Gila recognized the importance of educating armed citizens to the legal aftermath and formed the Armed Citizens' Legal Defense Network. The Network consists of like-minded armed citizens across the nation with a goal to educate members about the legalities of using deadly force for personal defense and how to interact with the legal system after a shooting.

A significant benefit of the Network is an inner network of attorneys and legal experts with experience in defending personal defense cases. Members also have potential eligibility for financial assistance if facing unmeritorious prosecution after a personal defense incident.

The Network reminded me a lot of a legal assistance benefit I had with a previous employer. There, employees paid a monthly fee and in return got assistance with such things as attorney referral, will preparation and adoption. Similarly with the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, members pay an annual fee and in return get an informational DVD set on the legal parameters governing deadly force, interaction with law enforcement after a shooting, and how attorneys mount a legal defense of one involved in a personal defense shooting.

Further, Network members can access a list of affiliated attorneys in their area who have access to the Network's court-recognized legal experts in the area of personal defense. Member's attorneys have access to case review and consultation about defense strategies and members are also eligible to request financial assistance to defray legal costs.

Justified or not, Castle Doctrine or not, you will have to deal with the legal system after a shooting incident.

I posted about the Armed Citizens' Legal Defense Network on the Guns & Ammo forum, and online users came back with some interesting points. Primary was the assumption that because their state had a "Castle Doctrine" (CD), they would be immune to any criminal charges after a rightful shooting. When asked about that, Marty pointed out some flaws in that assumption, not the least of which is that CD varies from state to state, and you have to be completely familiar with the one in your state. Furthermore, you also need to be familiar with your state's case law, as while you might not run afoul of your CD today, you might be against case law tomorrow.

Online users also played the CD card when it came to any civil lawsuits after a justified shooting. Again, Marty pointed out something that really concerns me. Depending on how your state's CD is written, you may not be protected from a civil suit. For instance, say your state prosecuting attorney decides it was a totally justified shooting or that there's not enough evidence to go to court. In that case, CD was never applied, so you may still be subject to a civil suit.

Another important point online users brought up was concern that by being a member of the Armed Citizens' Legal Defense Network, it could be perceived as some sort of "premeditation" of wanting to be involved in a shooting. I personally don't think that good education or training is ever a bad thing, and as Marty told me, taking a class or joining a group is no more premeditative than legally carrying your gun loaded.

Whether you keep a gun at your bedside, near the cash register in your store, or on your hip as you go about your business, it's important to get the training so you know how to use it effectively and safely if you ever need to. Beyond that, I believe it's your responsibility as an armed citizen to know the laws in your state about lethal force, and to know what can happen to you after a justified shooting. To that end, I truly believe the Armed Citizens' Legal Defense Network is a great place to start. Even if you never need to call on it for help, the Network will connect you with like-minded gun owners and legal experts.

Recommended for You


FNH USA Announces 5th Annual FNH USA Midwest 3-Gun Championships

Shooting Times Staff - September 23, 2010

The FNH USA Midwest 3-Gun Championships kicks off at 8 am on Friday, May 21.


Accuracy: It's All Relative

Terry Wieland - May 09, 2019

Like situational ethics, standards of accuracy vary according to circumstances.


Yugoslavian M24/47 Mauser-Pattern Rifle

Joseph von Benedikt - May 13, 2019

These cheap postwar variants offer perhaps the best value on the vintage-Mauser market.

See More Recommendations

Trending Stories


Harvey Donaldson: Pioneer Benchrester

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 07, 2019

Harvey A. Donaldson may be best known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp wildcat cartridge, but...


Revolver vs. Semiautomatic Pistol: A Ballistic Oddity

Allan Jones - May 15, 2019

How can a shorter-barreled revolver have higher velocities than a longer-barreled...


Get the Most Out of the .30-06

Joseph von Benedikt - April 01, 2019

Cutting-edge projectiles provide unprecedented performance in the venerable old workhorse, the...

See More Stories

More How-To


Installing Aftermarket Barrels in Glock Compensated Pistols

Brad Miller, Ph.D. - May 13, 2015

Aftermarket barrels are quite the rage for some guns. A new barrel can transform your pistol...


Gentleman's Guide to Old-School Gun Range Etiquette

Joseph von Benedikt - March 19, 2013

When's the last time you went to a public range and had a horrible day - 'not because of your...


12 Ways To Hide Your Personal-Defense Firearms

Layne Simpson - March 14, 2018

Here are a dozen ways to keep your personal-defense firearms out of sight, but close at hand.

See More How-To

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.