Offensive WeaponSteven Lieberman
“I’ve never thought of using my gun as an offensive weapon.”
“In the class you were talking about using deadly force to protect someone else, essentially being offensive in the use of the weapon.”
“Yeah… no… that is a misunderstanding of what I was saying. Using deadly force to protect someone other than yourself does not rise to the level of offensive action. Quite the contrary, the analysis remains the same.”
This exchange took place over the weekend while at the range during one of our classes. Our student had misinterpreted what I said about the use of deadly force for the protection of third parties. It bears some some discussion.
The use of our weapons in a deadly force event has a singular purpose: The preservation of human life. That life may be our own, it may be the life of a family member, or it could, conceivably, be the life of someone we have never met. The act of using deadly force to protect someone other than ourselves does not rise to the level of an offensive action. Rather, by definition, it remains a defensive act.
Let’s review the basic tenet of the justifiable use of deadly force: Did the actions of the suspect rise to the level where there was an objectively reasonable belief that there was an imminent likelihood of death or great bodily injury to a victim? If the answer to the inquiry is yes, then victims have an inherent right to continue to exist. Along with that right comes the precept that they have the right to use violence in order to prevent someone else from extinguishing their existence.
When we see someone about to suffer a life-ending event at the hands of someone else, we have the ability to legally “step into their shoes,” and use deadly force for the benefit of the victim. Our actions are judged based on two separate analyses: 1) Did the victim, whom we were using deadly force to protect, have the right to use deadly force to protect himself in the first place? and 2) Did the victim dispositively rebut the presumption that he would use deadly force to protect himself?
This second prong is actually quite tricky. Imagine the hypothetical where the abuser is about to kill the victim. The victim realizes the CCW holder is about to intervene on her behalf and tells the CCW holder to stand down. “Don’t shoot… he is my boyfriend!” is a refrain that comes to mind. Essentially, at this point the CCW holder has little recourse. The CCW holder presumes that, but for the victim’s inability to use deadly force to protect herself from the assailant, the CCW holder would. In this case, the victim has just emphatically stated she would not… essentially rebutting the presumption.
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Of course, the first prong of the analysis is just as important: Do victims have the right to protect themselves in the first place? If a murderer is being chased by a cop and a gun fight ensues, the suspect has no right to use deadly force to protect himself from arrest. Thus, a third-party entering the fray to protect the suspect would equally have no right to use deadly force to protect the suspect.
Think of the multiple instances where CCW holders have come to the aid of law enforcement, situations where the citizen has employed deadly force to protect the officer, who is in a state of extremis.
There, the officer has an absolute right to continue to “exist.” He is in the throes of combat where an assailant has gotten the upper hand. But for an intervening event, the officer is about to suffer death or a crippling injury. In short, it is objectively reasonable to believe the officer is about to suffer an imminent death or great bodily injury. The CCW holder comes to the aid of the officer, employing the use of his firearm. There is nothing to suggest the officer would not relish this assistance from a Good Samaritan. He has made no statements or utterances telling the CCW holder to back off, and it is reasonable to believe that someone similarly situated would request assistance.
The action of the CCW holder is not an offensive one.
Quite the contrary, it is a quintessential act of self-defense. Only in this case… self-defense via proxy.
We do not carry guns, or train in the use of arms, for the purpose of engaging in offensive acts. To do so would be both illegal and immoral. We train for the singular purpose of preserving human life.
That act is fundamentally defensive.
That is not to say that we engage in half-measures. Once the Rubicon has been crossed, then we must act with a ruthlessness that is unmatched. The emotions of fear and rage are strikingly similar. One can cause the individual to freeze; the other can spur one on in righteous indignation.
Remember, the gun on your hip is not your first line of defense! It is your last line of resistance.