The most important thing to do is make sure you are safe from further attack or injury…
I just finished trying to reassure a member of one of the firearms groups that I belong to that you are not guaranteed to be arrested and sent to jail if you use your firearm in a lawful self-defense encounter. The member and his wife just finished attending a seminar put on by one of the companies that offer insurance for cases of self-defense with the use of force. He said that a “former police officer” at the seminar “made us all feel like criminals, and now my wife’s so scared of the repercussions of using self-defense that she’s decided not to carry at all.”The speaker went on to say “that anyone who uses a firearm for self-defense, whether it’s discharged or not, is immediately guilty of murder or attempted murder and will be arrested on the spot and sent to jail.”
That is just plain wrong, and does nothing but make people fearful. Is going to jail on a murder charge a possibility? Maybe. It really depends on the situation surrounding the whole encounter.Seminars and speeches like the one really do a disservice to the law-abiding citizens who carry a firearm for self-defense and know the law says about the use deadly force to protect themselves or others. I reminded the member that this officer was more than likely being paid by the company that put the seminar on, and that the company sells insurance. What better way to boost sales than to make everyone scared to use their firearm without insurance?
So, what really happens when you are forced to use your firearm to defend yourself or someone else? What happens after the smoke clears and the threat is gone? Situations vary, but I will try to explain the essentials from both the legal and investigatory side. I will then explain what you yourself can expect to go through.That’s a lot of information, and why this is Part 1 of a two-part article.
In this first installment, let’s talk about the law enforcement response.You are forced to defend yourself. You know the laws on self-defense, you are lawfully carrying or in possession of the firearm, and you have used it to save your life or the life of another person. You pull your firearm and shoot another person, causing them injury or death. As the fog lifts and your mind starts to wrap around the fact that you just shot someone, the police will arrive.What happens in the next few minutes is critical to what may happen to you down the road. You may be physically injured, and at a minimum you will be shaken, dazed, and/or confused.
No matter what you do, you should immediately make sure you are safe from further attack or injury. Make sure you are ready for the potential of another attack or more assailants. Once you are sure it is safe and over, take a few very deep, calming breaths. Try to calm your heart rate and breathing, and then get on the phone and call 911 as soon as you can, even if others have already called.When the 911 operator answers the phone you need to be very clear and concise.
DO NOT get long winded and start yelling or screaming. Tell the operator that you were attacked or threatened and (most importantly) that you were in fear for your life (or the life of another), and that you want to press charges against the suspect. Give them the location and your name. Then say no more. Only give identifying information, your name, and location.
When the police arrive, make sure you are no longer holding your firearm in your hand. Either lay it on the ground and move away from it, or secure it somehow. If there a lot of people around, don’t lay it down where someone can pick it up and run away with it. Follow all the directions of the officers. They may or may not point their firearms at you, they may handcuff you, depending on what the officers were told by 911 dispatchers. Regardless, when they arrive, the ONLY information you should give them is your identifying information; name, address, date of birth. There is nothing wrong with giving them your driver’s license, concealed carry license or both. Keep the information you share limited to the basics.Under no circumstances should you start telling anyone the details of the incident. When they ask you what happened, simply tell the officers the same thing you said on the phone, “I was attacked and feared for my life (or life of another) and I was forced to defend myself. I want to talk to my attorney before making any statements. I do not consent to any searches. I will cooperate fully after speaking to my lawyer.” Remember: you have the right to have an attorney present before any questioning begins. Stick to this and no more.
Unless they have enough evidence at the scene to give them probable cause to believe you committed a crime, they cannot arrest you or take you into custody. If you used self-defense in accordance with your state’s laws, you should not be arrested. If they feel they have a case at that time, then the responding officers may arrest you, but that does not mean you are guilty or will be convicted, or even held for long. Still, do not tell them what happened. Make sure you reassert your right to speak to your attorney before you are questioned about the incident.
If you are can you should call your attorney from the scene as soon as you can. Remember that the police do not know you from your attacker, and that they were not there. They can only go by what they know from the 911 call or calls, from what they see at the scene, and what they are told. Even if there are other people there that are lying about what happened, do not start getting defensive. The worst thing you can do is start telling them what you think they need to know while emotionally upset and scared, because you could say the wrong thing or mix up your words. Just focus on calming down; don’t say anything about what happened.
Let’s assume you are not arrested, but released from the scene to go home. The officers will probably take your firearm into evidence. Make sure you get a receipt for it, because it will make getting it back later easier for you. Now what you need to do is go home and calm down. DO NOT go home and start drinking to settle your nerves, and try not to take medications to do the same thing. Instead, try sitting down and breathing slowly as you go through the events in your head. If you need to, writing down what happened in chronological order may help. In the privacy of your own home, call and speak to your attorney if you have not done so yet. Make sure you tell your attorney the truth of everything you said, saw, and did. What you were feeling, and why, and especially how you ended up feeling threatened. The idea that you were in fear for your life is the key to your reason for defending yourself.
If you are arrested, the same guidelines apply as above. Do not panic. Just because you have been arrested does not mean you are convicted. You should still not say anything about what happened until you speak to your attorney. You will be given the chance to “bond out” of jail, a promise that you will appear in court by paying a fee that will be returned to you upon your appearance. If you do bond out, you will be given a court date to appear. DO NOT miss it. Make sure you contact your attorney, let them know everything that happened, and give them the court information.
Different states have different rules for these types of things. In my state of Florida, if you are arrested and do not bond out, you have to appear before a judge within twenty four hours and have charges and bail set.
There is a system. If you are within the law, do not lose faith. The system does have its way of doing things.
Coming in Part Two: what you can expect during and after a shooting, both physically and psychologically.