Just about anyone who regularly carries a firearm for personal protection has also considered under what circumstances he or she might consider defending others who appear to be in danger. Unfortunately, you may have only seconds to decide whether or not to intervene.
Just remember: Even though the legal rules and principles of self-defense include the defense of others, using deadly force to protect someone other than yourself is always more complicated — and potentially problematic.
Good Samaritan or Vigilante?
Explaining why you came to the aid of someone else involves additional factors. Was the person a family member or someone you believed to be a victim? Someone else you knew personally (i.e. a neighbor or co-worker)? A complete stranger?
If the alleged victim is known to you, persuading a jury that you feared for his or her safety is less difficult. But articulating your reasons for coming to the aid of a complete stranger depends on the circumstances and the people involved.
One example might be a woman screaming “HELP!” in the parking lot of a shopping mall as two men try to wrestle her into a van. You yell, “Stop! Leave her alone!” and point your firearm at them. They run off. Your actions have a good chance of being seen as reasonable by most jurors.
However, suppose that when the suspects fled, you did not immediately go to check on the status of the victim. Instead, you chased after the attackers, and your pursuit ended in a shooting incident where one or more of the suspects were wounded or killed.
A good prosecutor would argue that the moment you took off after the suspects, you ceased being a good Samaritan and became a vigilante. Your goal was no longer protecting the victim but “playing cop” or, worse, exacting revenge.
I can hear it now: “So, Mr. Smith, instead of coming to the aid of Ms. Jones, as any reasonable person would have done, you chose to take the law into your own hands.” Just as in defending yourself, once the immediate threat is over, your right to use force has ceased.
When Does Disagreement Become Violence?
Ask any police officer to describe his or her least favorite confrontation and he or she will invariably list domestic disturbance because it is often so volatile and utterly unpredictable. Cops, both men and woman, have been struck, punched, kicked and stabbed … often by the victim!
Obviously, the line between “just an argument” and a situation that seems about to boil over into violence is blurry at best. As a result, if you as a civilian come upon two people engaged in a heated argument, use your own judgment and caution.
Personally, once things start to become physical, I would keep my distance and call 911, announcing that fact to them. The embarrassment of imminent police intervention might cool things off. If not … well, that’s your call.
Finally, most of you have seen the video of a young man being assaulted by a mob.
If you did not purposely place yourself in such a situation (a huge problem), intervening to protect someone being attacked by a mob might be viewed as justified. Just be aware that if you wound or kill even a clearly violent protestor, the press will NOT treat you fairly. As always, having a good lawyer is mandatory.
Just be aware, be smart and stay safe.
About John Caile
John Caile is an NRA Firearms Instructor Certified in Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun, Home Firearm Safety and Personal Protection in the Home. He has more than 35 years of experience in concealed carry training and practical handgun shooting skills. John was communications director of the Minnesota Gun Owners Political Action Committee and was instrumental in passing Minnesota’s landmark concealed carry permit law. He is a contributing writer for USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine and has appeared on national talk radio and network and public television and has been frequently published in the press. John lives in Palm Coast, Florida, where he continues his lifelong activism for gun owners and their rights.