Warning shots: they can land you in jail, and you’ll probably deserve it.

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One of the sure ways to get a certain number of gun owners up in arms is to post a story about someone being arrested for firing a warning shot. The attitude seems to be that if the person didn’t shoot at someone else, and didn’t hit anyone accidentally, where’s the harm?

Warning shots seem to be grossly misunderstood by a large percentage of gun owners, who are confused about their legality and practicality. It’s really quite simple: they’re virtually never justified. (I’d go so far as to say that they’re never justified under any circumstances, but that’s just me.)

Take this story about a woman in Virginia whose daughter was in an altercation with a neighborhood boy. Accounts vary, but apparently the boy in question either punched her daughter in the face, or just insulted her, but the result was some degree of (mutual?) assault.

The mother, one Lakisha Gaither, said that she walked away, into the middle of the parking lot, looked around to make sure that no one was around, then drew her gun and fired a shot into the air. For that, she was arrested.

She should have been.

The principle is this: the gun is always a tool of deadly force. If you’re not justified in shooting a person because of an immediate threat to your life (or the life of another innocent person), you’re not justified in shooting at all. A warning shot is in effect an admission that you didn’t need to use deadly force, otherwise you would have actually aimed at the person who was the threat.

You can’t use the threat of deadly force (the warning shot) to convince or coerce someone else’s behavior outside of an immediate threat to your life.

The problem is Ms. Gaither apparently didn’t have a justifiable reason for pulling the trigger. She simply wanted a boy to stop arguing with her daughter, so she used her deadly weapon to put some fear into him. By her own account, the incident wasn’t one in which her daughter was in immediate (and otherwise unavoidable, particularly since this altercation appears to have been mutual) danger of death or grave bodily harm.

Therefore she didn’t have the right to fire her gun, and she was arrested for discharging a firearm illegally.

If the situation warrants the use of deadly force, then it warrants using that force directly against the attacker. If the situation is such that you don’t need to shoot the other person and you’re not legally justified in doing so, then you’re not justified in discharging your gun, period.

Warning shots are for television shows and the fools who get their training from them. I trust that you don’t fall into that category, but let’s help educate those who do! One way you can do so is to join (and get others to join) the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network (ACLDN). The ACLDN not only helps you survive the legal aftermath of a lethal encounter, they give you a thorough education in the legalities of lethal force so that you understand – clearly – when it is and isn’t appropriate. Highly recommended!

-=[ Grant ]=-

(As always: I am not a lawyer. This is a layman’s understanding of the laws surrounding the use of lethal force, and you should always seek competent legal guidance for any questions you have about the legal issues regarding guns and self defense.)

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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