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When Can You Shoot a Burglar?

ELI5: Negligence

Recently, a Utah man was arrested for pulling a gun on a woman he suspected of shoplifting from the Dollar Tree. Many people are confused about whether or not it’s ever okay to shoot at someone they suspect of committing a crime. If you’re wondering, keep reading.  

It’s Complicated 

Whether or not you can legally shoot a criminal is going to depend on a variety of things, most notably your circumstances and your location. Because there are so many factors that can go into whether or not your actions would be considered justified, it’s best to avoid shooting someone if possible. Each state has its own gun laws, what is legal in one state may not be legal in another state. Furthermore, the laws change. If you own a gun, you are responsible for staying up-to-date on the laws that are in effect in your location. If you injure someone with your guns—regardless of whether or not those injuries are fatal—you cannot use “I didn’t know that was illegal” as a defense in criminal court or in civil court.  

What If My Life Is in Danger? 

Again, it’s going to depend on what jurisdiction  you’re located in. Also, it should be noted that whether or not your life is actually in danger may be a matter of debate. For example, when Kyle Rittenhouse shot three people—fatally injuring two of them—he was prosecuted for it. The State believed his actions were not justified, and he was charged criminally. However,  a jury eventually found that he acted in self-defense, and he was acquitted. The point is that whether or not a person acted in self-defense can be a matter of debate, even in cases where there’s video footage. While there are definitely times where people do fire their weapons in self-defense, it’s important to remember that any time you shoot at someone, your actions will likely be investigated, and you could be prosecuted. 

What If They’re a Burglar? 

If someone is burglarizing your home, can you shoot them? Again, the answer is complicated. Of course, it’s going to depend on the laws of the state you’re located in. Just because a person is trespassing doesn’t automatically grant the property owner the right to shoot them. Some states may require that you retreat if possible, as opposed to engaging in an exchange of gun fire. Other states may not require you to retreat, but it will be difficult to argue self-defense if the burglar doesn’t have a fire-arm as well. While many people do have firearms for the purpose of home defense, there are other things you can do to make burglary less likely. You can have a home security system and signs posted in front of your house to alert burglars that you have a home security system. Additionally, you can make sure that your doors and windows are locked before you go to sleep or leave your house. Don’t leave valuable items in sight, especially in your car. If you do decide to have a firearm for home defense, make sure you familiarize yourself with the local laws. It can also be a good idea to take classes on firearm safety. 

What If They Aren’t Fatally Injured? 

Even if a person isn’t fatally injured, there can still be consequences for firing a weapon—and this is also true in cases where a person was shot at, but not injured. Anytime you fire a gun at a person, your actions can and likely will be investigated—even if nobody is injured. Many people feel uncomfortable about the idea of taking another person’s life, even in a matter of what they perceive as self-defense, so they “shoot to maim” instead of shooting to kill. When you have a firearm, you should never shoot at anyone whom you are not willing to fatally injure. Any time you pull out a gun to shoot someone, they could become fatally injured, regardless of whether or not you were intending to fatally injure them. 

Criminal and Civil Consequences 

If you shoot at a person, there could be both criminal and civil consequences. You could be ordered to financially compensate anyone who you cause to sustain damages due to your actions. Because you are likely intending to shoot that person, it’s not likely that your homeowners insurance would cover your actions, because they were intentional. If someone accidentally gets shot at your home, it’s possible your insurance will cover their medical expenses, but you need to verify whether your policy requires you to disclose that you have firearms at your home or not. However, you could also be personally responsible for paying the judgment or settlement. You could also be liable for any excess judgment as well. There may also be criminal consequences, and this is true even in cases where nobody was injured. The specific crimes you could be charged with will vary greatly based on location and circumstances. However, the crimes you could be charged with are generally pretty serious and should not be taken lightly. 

Gun Safety Saves Lives 

If you own a gun, it’s important to understand the laws in your location, and any location you travel to with that gun. It’s also important to take classes on how to handle your guns safely and conduct yourself in a safe manner with guns. For example, it’s commonly said that guns should be treated as if they’re always loaded—even if you’re pretty sure the gun isn’t loaded. It’s never acceptable to waive guns around, point them at people, or put your finger on the trigger (when you’re not actively shooting at a target). At Moxie Law Group, we’re committed to advocating for personal safety. However, we understand that injuries still happen. If you’ve sustained injury due to the negligence of another person, contact us today for a free consultation. 

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