The Second Amendment guarantees Americans the right to bear arms, but it doesn’t say when we can use them. Since basically 1789 when the Amendment was passed by Congress, a person’s right to use a firearm in self-defense has been hotly debated. Today there is still no clear answer, despite gun laws and safety being a hot topic in the news and the public.
Safety at home is the biggest concern for gun rights advocates, who often ask, “Can I be arrested for shooting at a burglar in my home?” How this plays out and whether or not you can use self-defense as a means for your actions is incredibly circumstantial. As the question is worded, the answer is probably, “Maybe.”
When Shooting an Intruder Is Legal
The law is gray when it comes to your legal right to fire upon an intruder in your home or on your property. Each state has its own set of rules, and even individual counties can have little nuances to the law. In general, however, you can only shoot a deadly weapon at an intruder if you fear for your life or someone else’s life.
To prove that your life was in danger, you will have to consider these four aspects of the event:
- Ability to harm: Does the person inside your home appear to be able to use deadly force? If they are holding a knife or pistol, the answer is clear – they are dangerous. But if they are unarmed and half your size, you probably do not have the right to shoot at them.
- Opportunity to harm: When you encounter the intruder, are they given the chance to use deadly force? If an intruder has a knife and is within a couple yards, using your gun might be the only way to stop them from attacking you. But if they are holding a knife at the edge of your property, some thirty yards away, shooting them now could constitute manslaughter or murder.
- Intent to harm: Is it clear that the intruder wants to hurt you? This is perhaps the most difficult aspect to prove that imminent danger is present. In most cases, if you can show that the intruder had the ability and the opportunity, you could reasonably conclude that they also had the intent. The jury will need to ask, “Would a reasonable person have also feared for their life?”
- No other choice: In some situations, you will need to show that you had no other options but to use your firearm in self-defense. If you are in your bedroom when they approach you suddenly, you do not have the option to flee or negotiate with them. If you hear someone in the upstairs bedroom, you seek them out, and shoot them in the back, the jury could conclude that you chose to attack them rather than leaving or calling the police from a safe room.
In the end, this debate is not over because it is subjective from every angle. Each person will react to danger and threats in their own way – where some panic, others remain calm. We all may have that base instinct to survive and protect ourselves but we each interpret how to carry out our actions differently.
If you have been arrested in Florida for shooting an intruder, contact The Wiseman Law Firm at your earliest opportunity. Our Orlando criminal defense attorney can explain your rights and help interpret the moments that led to your arrest during a free initial consultation.