Monday, January 17, 2011


Its human nature. People like to share information, people like to gossip about their favorite subjects. How many of us have heard from our buddy at our favorite watering hole that he has information that he got from his cousin’s husband’s best friend’s brother in law, who is an expert on the subject.

Sometimes the information is just slightly in accurate and in many cases, its harmless. In other cases, it can create perceptions that are not only dangerous, but calculated to create tragedy when acted upon by well-meaning, but horribly misinformed consumers.

This is very true in the area of self-defense. What you think you know can prove to hurt you, somewhere down the road. Take a look at these dangerous myths and expel them from your data base, now and forever.

1. “If you confront a trespasser in your home, you are legally permitted to shoot them to defend your property.“

Wrong and very dangerous. Remember, in Minnesota you can only use deadly force under a very limited set of circumstances:

(1) The killing must have been done in the belief that it was necessary to avert death or grievous bodily harm or to prevent the commission of a felony in your own home.

(2) The judgment of the defendant as to the gravity of the peril to which he was exposed must have been reasonable under the circumstances.

(3) The defendant's election to kill must have been such as a reasonable man would have made in light of the danger to be apprehended.

Trespassing is not, in and of itself, a felony. Shooting you daughter’s boyfriend while he is sneaking into your home so they can make out, on the other hand is a felony and one you may well go to prison for committing. If you are going to pick up a gun, you will also be picking up a tremendous responsibility. The power to inflict deadly force carries with it a heavy price tag.

2. “If you shoot and intruder who turns out to be unarmed, stick a knife in his hand and drag him into the house before calling the police.”

Wrong and very dangerous. With the advanced scientific technology available to law enforcement today, these types of actions will be discovered. Notice I said “will be” not “may be”. In almost all jurisdictions, altering the scene of a shooting is considered prima facie evidence of prior planning. What is an unjustified killing with prior planning? 1st degree murder. Do not alter the scene. Do not allow others to alter the scene. If you must shoot, your spouse is just going to have to deal with the stains on the carpet. Lock it down and leave it alone. Or try to explain to already suspicious police officers why you found it necessary to try to change the scene (can we all say “deception?”)

3. “If you have to shoot a bad guy, make sure he is dead, otherwise the lawsuits he might file will ruin you financially.”

Wrong and very dangerous. You have been given the power to shoot to stop a deadly threat. You have not been given the power to commit murder. You have an obligation, (to yourself and your family) once you make the decision to use deadly force to continue to use deadly force until the threat is stopped. If that results in an attacker dying from gunshot wounds, that is a choice that he made in mounting his attack. But if he is down and out of the fight, you do not have the right to administered a coup de grace to avoid the legal entanglements that may arise after the fact. Yes, it is complicated. Its SUPPOSED to be complicated. Taking a human life is an action of last resort.

4. “After you have to shoot a mugger, look for witnesses. If there aren’t any, leave the area to avoid the legal hassle.”

Wrong and very dangerous. In the eyes of the law, flight equals guilt. Innocent people do not run from the law. Your perceptions will be distorted, your senses dulled in the aftermath of any shooting encounter. (If it happens to trained professionals, and it does, it will happen to you). The witnesses you don’t see, you will see for the first time when they appear in court to testify against you.

5. “Guns are of no use to a woman in danger of rape, since rapists do not carry guns and you cannot shoot an unarmed man.”

Wrong and very dangerous - are you noticing a pattern here by now? In the “AOJ” trilogy (Ability, Opportunity and Jeopardy) the threat of disparate force by an unarmed attacker meets the ability requirement. A man, due to average superior upper body strength, has a disparity of force advantage over a smaller, weaker woman. More than one attacker, even when unarmed poses a deadly threat because of their greater combined strength. This disparity is a “weapon” as surely as a gun, a knife or other weapon. And an attack with intent to rape poses a danger of great bodily harm, if not death for the victim.

6. “I couldn’t actually use a gun, I just have one to scare burglars away.”

Wrong and deadly. Countless studies of criminal behavior have brought us a chilling fact. Criminals do not fear the gun. They only fear the resolute man or woman holding it on them. If they d not believe that you are “hard” enough to fire on them, they will make the effort to take the gun away from you and use it on you. Lots of different ways to say this. If you do not have what it takes to use a gun to save your life, do not pull one on an attacker. You will not have much advance warning if you have been chosen as a victim. You cannot be sure that if you submit that your attacker will spare your life. Yes, it does happen in your town, in your neighborhood and it can happen, without warning, tonight, in your home. Yes, its unfair. But who in the world ever told you that life was going to be fair, and why were you foolish enough to believe them?

7. “The key to self defense is having the ‘right’ gun. With a large bore handgun, you will be unbeatable in a gunfight.”

Wrong and pretty stupid. This is not a quest for the magical sword Excalibur. A self defense handgun must be one that combines reliability, stopping power, and accuracy in a stressful firing situation. Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum would be no match for a cheap .22 Saturday night special in the hands of a criminal skilled in shooting it accurately. If the magnum owner could not fire it effectively and accurately to put an attacker down, he will lose the fight. Choose a gun you can shoot accurately, which operates reliability and which has sufficient stopping power to save your life if you ever have to use it. Because if you do, that is what will be at stake.

8. “Do not pull a gun unless you are going to pull the trigger.”

Wrong and dangerously stupid. In the words of Massad Ayoob, Director of the Lethal Force Institute for over twenty-eight years, “No little grasshopper, the rule is don’t pull the gun unless you’re prepared to pull the trigger.” The difference is monumental. The greatest power of the gun is deterrence. Threat management, the ability to dissuade an attacker from carrying through with his threat. But if you have achieved that goal, the decision to shoot changes your status from responsible gun owner to criminal. Police officers must pull their guns in the line of duty routinely, but rarely are required to move to the point of using deadly force. You must be ready to stop the threat while maintaining control over the decision to use deadly force to do so.

**Adapted from the work of, and with grateful acknowledgment to, Massad F. Ayoob, skilled instructor, true friend and Director of the Massad Ayoob Group, Concord, New Hampshire.


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