I don’t often do formal book reviews, but after reading a copy of When Deadly Force is Involved, by Bruce M. Lawlor, I found it refreshingly innovative in its approach. The author is an attorney and former Major General of the U.S. Army with broad legal experience in both civil and criminal cases. Unlike many attorneys, Mr. Lawlor is also a certified firearms instructor and has extensive experience in self-defense issues for civilians and military personnel alike.

What I find most impressive about Mr. Lawlor’s methodology and style is that it makes this particular book much more readable and understandable to the average layperson than many texts on self-defense. This is helpful, because most people who carry firearms are not attorneys, and they often express frustration at the complicated legal jargon that can be hard to translate into useful information they can use in their daily lives.

Unlike the impression one would get from movies and TV, self-defense is not something that fits on a bumper sticker. Look how every new case brings out the self-appointed “experts” willing to predict the outcome, even before the basic facts are uncovered, usually referencing some case they “saw on the internet” as “proof.”

On the contrary, every self-defense case is unique, always complex and seldom predictable as to outcome. More importantly, it is always a process, which begins at the moment that any interaction between two or more people results in contact with law enforcement and the legal system. From the introduction:

“[This book] describes a legal framework for thinking about self-defense that is applicable everywhere. It doesn’t focus on the laws of any one state, nor does it compare the laws of one state with those of another.”

This is where Mr. Lawlor’s approach is especially effective. Most self-defense writers spend time dissecting particular court rulings with their arcane and often confusing legal jargon. In addition, too often the results of one case are used to predict that a defendant in a different but similar case will “surely be acquitted” (or just as surely “convicted”).

Instead, Mr. Lawlor creates intriguing fictional “composite” cases, drawn from his considerable experience, each of which highlights a particular aspect of self-defense law (provocation, imminent harm, reasonableness of fear, retreat, etc.), as well as covering how laws such as “Castle Doctrine” or “Stand Your Ground” are interpreted by judges and juries.

This approach allows the author to use his excellent storytelling skills to, like a good novelist, create much deeper and more complex images of the various participants involved. We get to know them intimately, their histories, their views, even their emotions. We know not just what they did, but what they were thinking when they did it. This makes the cases more memorable, and the legal realities we are likely to face that much easier to understand.

In summary, When Deadly Force is Involved is a book that will give anyone who owns and/or carries a firearm an enhanced understanding of how the legal process surrounding a self-defense case actually unfolds in the real world. Understanding these realities can help the reader avoid making some of the more common errors in judgment that have turned what otherwise would have been a legitimate case of self-defense into a conviction for assault, attempted murder, manslaughter or, in extreme cases, 2nd or even 1st degree murder.

Knowledge is power.