If you’re training and carrying concealed for self-defense, you likely want to know when you can use deadly force. The use of force continuum is a concept that guides law enforcement officers in determining the appropriate level of force to use in response to a situation.

The continuum of force consists of several levels, ranging from officer presence and verbal commands to lethal force. The continuum can help to de-escalate situations and determine only the necessary amount of force. The use-of-force continuum also provides a framework for officers to justify and explain their use of force decisions and actions.

Use of Force Continuum

For civilians, it is a set of guidelines that can help people decide how much force they can use to defend themselves or others in a dangerous situation. It can help defenders avoid using excessive or unnecessary force, as well as reduce the risk of legal consequences after a self-defense incident.

Level 1: Presence & Verbalization

This level involves using your situational awareness, verbal communication and personal alarms or yelling to deter or avoid a potential threat. For example, you can cross the street if you see a suspicious person approaching. You could also shout verbal de-escalation commands such as, “Stop!” or “Help!” if someone tries to grab you. A personal alarm device or whistle can attract attention and scare off an attacker too. 

Level 2: Empty Hand Control — Bodily Force

This level involves using your physical skills and techniques to escape or fight back against an attacker. For example, you can use kicks, punches, throws or blocks to create distance and get away from an assailant. You can also use pressure points, joint locks or chokes to disable or control an attacker. You should only use this level of force if you are trained and confident in your abilities, and if you have no other option.

Level 3: Less-Lethal Weapons

This level involves using weapons that are designed to incapacitate or stun an attacker without causing permanent damage or death. For example, you can use pepper spray, stun guns, Tasers or batons to stop an attacker from harming you or others. The risk of casualty is lower with “less-lethal” weapons though not impossible. Outside factors, such as falling down a flight of stairs, after an application of less-lethal force may still result in a fatality. You should only use this level of force if you are legally allowed to carry and use these weapons, and if you are familiar with their effects and limitations.

Level 4: Lethal Force

This level involves using weapons that are intended to cause serious injury or death to an attacker. For example, you can use firearms, knives or other sharp objects to defend yourself or others from an imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm. Laws vary by state. Stay up to date on local and federal regulations. In general, though, you need to be facing a deadly threat before you use deadly force.

You should only use this level of force as a last resort and if you reasonably believe there is no other way to prevent the attack. You should also be aware of the legal and moral implications of using lethal force.

When Can You Legally Draw Your Gun?

Knowing when you can draw your firearm is a delicate balance between protecting oneself and avoiding unnecessary legal complications.

Laws regarding concealed carry differ from state to state. So what might be legal in one state may not be in another. The primary purpose of carrying a concealed firearm is for self-defense against imminent threats. Displaying or using your weapon in any other circumstance could lead to legal issues.

Brandishing vs. Defensive Display

One common misconception is the difference between “brandishing” a firearm and a “defensive display.” Brandishing typically involves displaying a weapon in a threatening manner without justification, which is illegal in most jurisdictions.

On the other hand, a defensive display refers to showing your firearm to deter a potential threat. However, even with defensive display, the key element is the presence of a legitimate, immediate threat.

It is important to understand that the use of force continuum is not a rigid or fixed sequence of steps. You can skip or repeat levels depending on the situation and your judgment. You can also de-escalate or stop using force if the threat is reduced or eliminated.

Post-Incident Actions

Report the incident to the authorities, seek medical attention if needed and cooperate with the investigation. You should also be prepared for the legal and emotional consequences of using force. After a self-defense incident, your first call should be to 911, and your second call should be to the USCCA 24/7 Critical Response Team Emergency Support.

Legal Implications

Generally, in a self-defense case, you will have to meet four rule for the use of deadly force:

  1. Reasonable fear: You must genuinely believe that your life or someone else’s life is in immediate danger. The fear should be something that a reasonable person in the same situation would also feel.
  2. Innocent party: You must be the innocent party and cannot be seen as an aggressor. You should not start or escalate a conflict.
  3. Proportional response: No less force should be sufficient to stop the threat. If you can stop a threat with something less than deadly force, you should.
  4. No escape: Many states’ laws require that if you can do so safely, you are expected to seek escape from a potential attack (if an avenue of escape is available and practical), before standing your ground and defending yourself with deadly force.

Drawing your gun when it’s not legally justified can lead to serious legal consequences, including criminal charges such as assault with a deadly weapon or brandishing a firearm. Even if you don’t fire your weapon, simply showing it can be considered a use of force in some jurisdictions.

Having a USCCA Membership can help prepare you for before, during and after a self-defense incident!

Moreover, civil liability lawsuits can also arise from these self-defense situations. The person at whom the gun was drawn might sue for emotional distress, personal injury or violation of civil rights. Even if you win the criminal trial, you can still lose in a civil liability case. Utilizing the use of force continuum can help you people make rational and ethical decisions in stressful and dangerous situations. 

This article is a compilation of previous blog posts authored by Eugene Nielsen, John Caile and Kevin Michalowski.