The Ultimate, Must Answer Self-Defense Question...Was It Worth It?

If you own a firearm (or other deadly force weapon) just for home use and/or carry a firearm seldom or often, this post is for you. I have written elsewhere in this blog about the risks in a self-defense incident of losing the physical fight or the later legal fight. It was pointed out that there is always some possibility that neither risk can ever be zero - that is just the way it is!

With that thought in mind, there are still some circumstances when you could face a threat and have to respond. In that moment of decision is where the benefits of thinking about various scenarios before an incident will be valuable. Once you engage in some use of force, it is too late. To emphasize the importance of this mental aspect of self-defense, I would like to offer a quote from one of my mentors, Use of Force Attorney, Andrew Branca. He is talking about a worst-case scenario where you are charged with a use of deadly force.

(The words below are from memory and contemporaneous notes and so may not be his exact words.)

"I am often asked under what circumstances I would use deadly force. Here is the reality of the answer to that question. I (you) have to be prepared to spend the rest of my (your) life in jail and still have that use of defensive force to be worth it. Why? Because, you could do everything legally correct and end up with a crazy jury. You could do everything legally correct and end up with a deadbeat defense attorney who is opposed by a really skilled prosecutor. Whether your actions were legal or not, you could be convicted anyway and then spend 20 years in prison. It happens! A key witness disappears, witnesses lie, or your case could be politically motivated/charged. At the end of that 20 years, on that last day, you still have to be able to look in the mirror and say to yourself "You know what? It was the right thing to do then, and if I had it to do again now, I would still pull that trigger"! Think about the things in your life. What is on the list of things that qualify to meet that standard? Your own life? - of course! You would rather be alive than dead. The life of your wife, your children or your parents? - of course! What about your large screen TV? Are you willing to spend 20 years in prison for a large screen TV, your car, or any other property? Before the fight, you really have to think carefully about the situations for which you are really willing to spend the rest of your life in jail? Because a conviction is the potential downside, you must be clear about the only circumstances under which you should be prepared to pull that gun and kill another human being".

Wow! What a picture he paints. Please re-read the above! It is dramatic and you must understand it!

I have heard Attorney Branca express the above thoughts several times. It never fails to make me think. Any scenarios that might seem borderline to me quickly fade to a NO! It also brings into focus the concepts of your options of avoidance, de-escalation, and running!

When I read this quote, thoughts race through my head about my own deadly force list. I think about situations where the loss of my vanity, pride, wallet, cell phone, new car, or any kind of property could be threatened by an attacker. I think about my family as we go through daily life. Where are my boundaries for deadly force? What situations are on my list? I assure you; my list is very short!

What about you? What's on your list? If you see thieves stealing your new Mercedes, does the gun come out? What about defending a stranger? Would you willingly go to jail for them if you are wrong? Maybe a good defensive tool would be your cell phone to get help for that stranger. What about defending the property of a neighbor or someone else?

Note: Don't get the wrong idea. When thieves are stealing your new car or motorcycle, you don't have to stand around like a bump on a pickle. You can try to prevent the loss using any manner of non-deadly force - voice, pepper spray, fists, feet, etc. If the situation turns nasty (like one of the thieves pulls a gun or knife on you), now you are dealing with something on your list. Think about what car insurance is for. Think…period!

Whenever Mr. Branca talks about the above concepts, some people get wide-eyed and gasp, “OMG - that is too scary! I am never going to carry a gun again”. I get the same reaction too. True, it is scary. However, it is not Mr. Branca’s or my purpose to convince you to not to carry defensive tools or make you afraid to defend yourself. Instead, the idea is to make you aware of the realities so you can make informed decisions and have confidence in your considered responses. If you decide not to avail yourself of defensive tools to deal with threats to you or your family, you are just another easy victim. Yes, the stakes are sometimes high, but the risk of losing your life should be high on your “worth it” list too! You decide!

Whenever you face and/or respond to a deadly force situation, assuming you prevail, there will be long term consequences legally, financially and emotionally. You may get the legally and financially part, but emotionally? Let’s face it, injuring or killing someone is not normal! You may not feel guilt, but you are going to sometime feel regret/sorrow/remorse. That is human! Prepare your head for all of it - expect it. A trial, possible jail, legal costs, and emotional costs should all be part of your thinking if you want to carry a gun.

In these times when violence seems to jump out at us all too often, it is good to reflect about our awareness, our defensive weapons, and our responses. One of your best defenses - KNOW THE LAW!


Steve Westfall

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