Self-Defense Law - Get the "Big Picture"!

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

By Steve Westfall

U.S. Secret Service - Retired

Self-Defense Law Instructor

Before you enter into a full on study of self-defense law, you need to get "the big picture" of this whole area of law. Shortcuts can lead to misunderstanding and ommissions.

This is a the start of a journey. Starting today, you have access to the information you need to be able to defend yourself and family, but decrease the risk a defensive action will send you to jail or mean financial ruin. There are lots of myths and misconceptions about the law of self-defense that can lead law-biding citizens astray.

Despite all your efforts to avoid it, you may someday be suddenly attacked and have to respond to a threat. Unfortunately, there are cases every day of Moms, Dads, Grandmas and Grandpas, with all good intentions, find themselves facing harsh criminal penalties because they did not understand the basic rules of the law. Those that care about protecting themselves and family risk being taken away from the very people they love when they engage in a self-defense action without knowing the legal boundaries of the law.

There is only one reason that self-defense laws exist. People (innocent people, that is) need to be able to protect themselves from unlawful assaults/violence. If that were not the case, there would be chaos in the streets.

In subsequent posts, you will get an analysis of the fundamental elements of a self-defense claim. There are five legal elements that will govern a lawful use of force. They are Innocence, Proportionality, Avoidance, Imminence, and Reasonableness. (Consider the acronym IPAIR to help remember them) These five elements form the basis of any valid claim of self-defense. They are the Alpha & Omega and the Holy Grail of a self-defense claim. Each element has its own rules. Therefore, each one is also the subject of an analysis in future chayers.

Don't be negative or intimidated. Defending yourself or family is noble and not being prepared to do so is unthinkable. You just have to know the law. It is not that difficult. Understanding the basic rules goes a long way to be able to make good, confident decisions. As above, mistakes made during a self-defense incident can have serious legal consequences. However, it’s true, if you are attacked and follow all the rules in your response, you can walk away free and continue your life.

Over centuries of history, certain principles have been developed that define the legal use of force and a legal claim of self-defense. Now, all 50 USA states work with the same legal elements. The prosecutors know these principles - and so must you.

You could think, “Why should I read or study this law stuff? My attorney is a smart guy. If I ever get into a scrape, I’ll just call him and he will make it go away”. Your attorney might be a smart guy, but he is not a miracle worker. He is going to be stuck with the facts and circumstances of your actions. He is not going to be able to change what happened or conjure up some alternate universe. If you were sloppy and acted outside the law, you both will have to live with it.

As you pass through your life, there may come a day when you will be forced to defend yourself or family from an attack. Of course, when confronted with any life-threatening situation, you can not hesitate to act. A true life or death, “I’m about to die”, “It’s him or me” situation should be easy to recognize and you should be prepared to act quickly and decisively.

However, there could be other scenarios that you might have a choice to enter (even though they appear to life-threatening). Examples of this kind of scenario would be intervening to help a stranger or involvement in an active shooter nightmare. With even a basic understanding of the laws of self-defense, you will absolutely come to realize that there are also many situations in which you should not engage, but quickly remove yourself (like a road rage incident or an escalating argument at a bar). There could be others when you should absolutely hesitate to overreact with fists or prematurely remove your firearm from its concealed hiding place. You need to be able to recognize when to use what kind of force.

If you think you might ever be forced to actively defend yourself or family, it is very valuable to have thought about possible situations beforehand. The more you understand about the boundaries of the law and the more you think about possible scenarios, the better prepared you will be to make good self-defense decisions at critical moments.

There are some important truths about self-defense. Anytime you enter into a self-defense action, whether by necessity or choice, there are unavoidable risks. First, there is no guarantee you won’t be seriously injured or killed. Sure, you might train with firearms and physical techniques to be able to defeat a threat. However, you could still not win the physical fight! There is always somebody better, stronger, faster!

Secondly, neither can there be a guarantee your self-defense actions won’t somehow be misjudged by the legal machinery. Even if you acted “just right”, things can sometimes go badly in the legal battle that follows an incident. If that happens, the result could be spending considerable time in prison, financial ruin or both. American justice is the best there is - but it is not perfect!

Here is one overriding “big picture” fact -- if and when you are ever forced to defend yourself from an attack, the odds of (1) being injured/killed or (2) going to prison -- is never zero! That is just the way it is!

You need to have a talk with yourself and think about any situations that would cause you to use force (especially deadly force) against another human. Make a list. What situations can you imagine that would make you engage in a physical altercation or reach for your gun, draw it, aim it at another person, and pull the trigger? After digesting the material offered by, I hope your list of actionable scenarios are well considered -- and very short.

Have you imagined any self-defense scenarios, did you pass all five elements?

Get what you need here at Sindri Tactical. Then click over to for further information.

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