A self defense shooting involves the actual discharge of a firearm by a member in order to preserve a human life or to prevent serious bodily harm to a person. The life or serious harm the member is attempting to protect can be their own, or another person's. When a member decides to use deadly force, they must be able to explain their reason for doing so.

When police officers are being trained at the academy, one of the questions asked by the cadets is "How will I know when to shoot?" The instructors will usually answer with one sentence, "You will know when to shoot." There will be an instant when you will know that if you do not take action, something very bad will happen.

Naturally, when another person has a gun pointed at you or someone else, there is the probability of death or serious bodily harm. The standard rule in any law enforcement agency is that if a subject has a gun pointed at another person, the threat must be neutralized. There is no greater threat than a person attempting to do harm with a firearm. If one of our members was ever charged under those circumstances, they would be covered.

What about an assailant that has a weapon other than a firearm? When a person has a gun, there is an understanding that the assailant doesn’t even have to move from their location in order to cause serious harm or death. A bullet travels a long distance in a short amount of time, and the only question is how accurate the assailant’s aim is in hitting his target. When the attacker has a knife or a club, the perception by the public of how dangerous that person is changes.

And that perception is usually distorted. Police officers go through extensive training to protect themselves against an attacker wielding a knife. Most people do not realize that officers are trained to shoot a person charging at them with a knife if that person is within what is called the “safety radius.” For most officers, that distance is 25 feet. What that means is that if the assailant is 25 feet away and charging, the officer will have just enough time to pull his weapon out of his holster and fire one round at the assailant before he reaches the officer. Officers have been stabbed and killed by an attacker because the officer hesitated to fire before the attacker was inside the safety radius.

There has been a great deal of controversy lately regarding the shooting of an unarmed assailant. The Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri is an excellent example of when deadly force is necessary in order to preserve a life even if the assailant is unarmed. There are several factors to consider when the decision is made to shoot an unarmed person.

A small woman would probably be able to convince a jury that she was in fear of her life being attacked by an unarmed assailant. A large man would have a harder time proving that he felt his life was in danger by an unarmed attacker. There are many factors involved any time deadly force is used in a self defense situation. The most important factor is if a judge or jury will believe that deadly force was necessary in your circumstance.

The problem with those people who have never been through specialized training in regards to unarmed assailants or those with knives and clubs, is that there is a hesitation to pull the trigger for fear of a backlash of public opinion. No one wants to be accused of killing a person when it “wasn’t necessary” because they didn’t have a gun. Unfortunately, when someone is trying to kill you with a knife or club, if you hesitate with your firearm, it could be fatal. Remember, if your unarmed assailant reaches you, they can very easily get your weapon, and then they are no longer unarmed.

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