RVer Safety: Making that difficult decision – Firing a weapon in self-defense

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By Mike Sherman
We have spent several weeks discussing various aspects of self-protection in your RV. Several comments from our readers were quite beneficial in pushing the conversation along, providing enlightenment on the type of weapons, ammunition, and the pros and cons of one’s choices. It is time to take a closer look at the ramifications of any shooting, should you ever be faced with that difficult decision.

You’ve made your decisions, got some training, and are comfortable knowing that you will probably never need to call upon the implements you have or the training you have received for protecting yourself or your family. Police training involves an abundance of scenarios and we could spend hours going over just a fraction of the potential problems one could encounter.

If you are ever faced with the decision to fire a weapon in self-defense, odds are you won’t have a lot of time to think about it. Do I shoot? Do I not shoot? If someone is trying to break down your door, you will probably be terrified, but you will have a few moments to make some decisions and gather your thoughts. This is where training and some forethought become beneficial.

Depending on the extent of your training, you will have a level of confidence … standing there ready to fire if the suspect actually gains entry. You’ve already called 911, but there are no neighbors coming to your aid, and you are on your own until help arrives. So if the bad guy does in fact tear open the door and gestures to advance … BOOM … problem solved, just like in the movies, right?

Well, not always. You may have terminated the immediate threat but now others are coming, in a more subtle form. You will be questioned by the authorities and at times it can feel like an interrogation. You will feel like you are a suspect for saving your life and the lives of your family. They will request a blood sample to test for drugs. They will try to determine your state of mind, what you were thinking, what exactly you did in the moments leading up to the shooting. Were you just scared or were you in actual fear for your life.

I am obviously making this simple and very basic, but it can happen. You will be put under a microscope. Did you intend to kill the suspect? Absolutely not … You intended to stop the suspect.

You can actually buy insurance to cover a shooting incident. The odds of a civil suit filed by the deceased’s family will probably take place. Overall, you solved one problem but now you have another. The legal, financial and emotional loops you will go through can be devastating.

Fortunately, justified shootings can easily be determined and if you are cleared, the civil suit may not happen. Those aspects of your case will end up being black-and-white, no gray areas left open for speculation on why you fired. You’ll hear those wonderful words: “You’re free to go.”

But your journey may not be over. Your emotions, for whatever reason, can have you suffering through sleepless nights. It’s not easy killing someone. What are the odds? But it happened, and now you seek closure. Having no criminal charges filed against you and no civil lawsuit coming at you, you focus on your well-being. This is when insurance, family, friends, faith, etc. bring you full circle to closure.

We’ll talk insurance next week. Your comments are appreciated.

Note: We know what we discuss in this column may be controversial. While we invite your polite, constructive comments, inflammatory remarks will be immediately deleted.

Mike Sherman is a retired street cop and investigator with 30+ years of RV experience as a traveler, camp host and all-around advocate for the joys of living on the road. His articles are for general discussion purposes only – you should always consult your local authorities or legal counsel for specific answers if necessary. Write him at MikeShermanPI@gmail.com if you have questions, or leave a comment below. 

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Ed Stephens
7 months ago

My camper carry is a youth model 410 pump shotgun loaded with #4 shot. If I need to use it in self defense I can pretty well be assured none of my rounds can wind up in a camper two or three sites down. But at close quarters it will be plenty able to stop the threat. Trained as Military Police served 6 years.

WEB
7 months ago
Reply to  Ed Stephens

I like (and never thought of) this idea and should be perfectly legal in Canada too. Just not legal to shoot someone breaking into your home. :-/

Dennis H Gregory
1 year ago

Problems related to gun ownership are virtually never associated with “responsible” gun ownership. Go back and apply that word “responsible”, to every instance of a gun-related tragedy and you will find that an individual was not being so, in some manner; mentally disturbed, no trigger locks or gun safe, a terrorist, etc. We will never hear about the thousands of lives saved every day by responsible gun ownership, because those stories don’t sell newspapers or compel you to watch TV.

If you think keeping guns away from “responsible” gun enthusiasts will keep them out of the hands of criminals, wacos or terrorists, you are both naive and gullible to what you are reading or hearing in the news. Of course, there have been a few instances of police discharge of a weapon that took a life in a questionable situation; these are extremely few, and typically relate to a training issue, or an officer who was not being … “responsible” … remember that word?

I sincerely hope I never have to discharge a weapon in defence of my family, and I do feel pepper spray is a smart, “must have”, alternative in a campground … Having said this, I could never forgive myself if I could have saved a life and couldn’t because I didn’t have a firearm available. Simply stated, guns in the hands of “responsible” citizens are a viable deterrent to criminal behavior in our society. For what it’s worth, I also have law enforcement experience as well as military weapons training.

Ben
1 year ago

I am a retired Canadian police officer with over 30 years on the job doing everything from beat cop to Homicide Detective. It is a very sad state of affairs that in the USA people feel a need to have a gun. I understand the reasoning; if most people have guns you should have a gun. The USA has gone so far overboard on gun ownership that they’re past the point of no return. People are dying at an alarming rate due to gun violence. It’s an arms race, how do you stop it? I understand the need to have discussions like what is presented in this article but it’s only needed because of the sad state of affairs that the USA has allowed itself to get to.

I have been camping my whole life, mostly in Canada, and the thought of getting a gun to protect myself and my family is not even a consideration. Most Canadians, camping in Canada, have never even put a thought to having a gun for protection. I’m thankful to live in a country where gun violence is minimal and the average citizen never has to concern themselves with participating in a discussion like the one in this article.

Mike Sherman
7 months ago
Reply to  Ben

If someone came at you with a 12″ knife, you would be happy to have a gun in your hand, unless you are okay with going one-on-one.

Sink Jaxon
7 months ago
Reply to  Ben

Ben, self protection is only one aspect. You may not know our Constitution and Bill of Rights being a Canadian. But our forefathers guaranteed us the right to bear arms to ALSO defend ourselves from a tyrannical government, should that scenario arise. Throughout history, it’s been proven over and over.
“To disarm the people… was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
(George Mason’s address to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 14, 1788.)
Gun ownership is a RIGHT here the USA, and many good men and women have died defending that right.

Dennis
7 months ago
Reply to  Ben

Some of us appreciate self sufficiency and the ability to not be forced to depend on a Nanny state government to protect us. Then there are people out there who had the training and COULD defend their families or others, but inexplicably don’t feel the need. But let us all believe the “Every town” mythical claims about the violent USA (especially outside of the Gun Controlled ghettos) being such a violent place and not check any of the facts of world violence levels… reminiscent of the well embroidered “Wild West” stories.

Sharon Nelson
1 year ago

I have taken shooting and gun safety classes and target shoot pretty regularly. I have my CCW permit. I’ve never had to use my weapon but something you said concerned me. If I’m at home and have had a few glasses of wine and someone breaks into my home and I shoot him (or her), what is the legal system’s view on the fact that I had a few glasses of wine?

Mike Sherman
1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon Nelson

Sharon, I’m not an attorney but if all the facts of a shooting confirm you were justified then the potential blood alcohol level in your bloodstream may not be an issue at the end of the day. However, the potential for prosecutors or civil attorneys to make it an issue exists. It’s just the nature of the beast. A lot depends on where you live when the event took place. Some geographical locations have different standards, laws and guidelines that prosecutors use when determining any charges that might be filed.

Salty Dog
1 year ago

Great discussion! I have my CC license in my home state of Florida, have taken a couple of defensive handgun courses, and maintain legal defense insurance in case I ever have to use it. And most importantly, I pray I never have to use it. Even if I have to use it to save my life I know I’ll always be second guessing myself and wondering if I could have done something else.

But the real reason I opened this article is I’m finding it difficult to keep up with all the gun laws in the other states while we travel. We retired two years ago, bought a camper, and hit the road. We are loving the experience, and as we all know most campers are great people, but we cover a lot of ground between campgrounds. It’s easy to stay within the laws of most states but I find it very difficult to know how to deal with states like NJ or NY. What do I do with a handgun while in those states? Can I just lock it up? Is there a general rule like lock it up out of reach and unloaded?

Mike Sherman
1 year ago
Reply to  Salty Dog

The RV Newsletter has an ad for a booklet covering weapon laws for all 50 states, updated regularly. A wise investment.

Dennis
7 months ago
Reply to  Salty Dog

Generally, you should be alright if you follow the Federal Law pertaining to transporting firearms, which entails a firearm in a locked container and ammo separated from the firearm. Then there’s the magazine capacity brouhaha. Also, NJ has a renegade law about hollow point ammo that even retired Cops are forced to circumnavigate under the Federal LEOSA, which for me means “around NJ”.

Tom Fitch
1 year ago

Mike, thank you for these articles and also the comments are very educational. A lot of the discussion has been centered around the prospect of taking “lethal action”. I’m curious if it makes sense to try to take “non-lethal” action with a gun? Why wouldn’t we want to shoot the aggressor say, in the leg or the shoulder? I have no idea of knowing for sure, but I’m thinking I might be aiming for a guy’s groin area. That would certainly be a lesson not soon forgotten by a bad guy. Thank you.

Wolfe
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Fitch

It’s “fun” for some people to quip about kneecapping or groin shooting, but “A THOUSAND TIMES -NO-.”

Legally, if lethal force is justified, use it effectively when REQUIRED. If you have an option to do less than dropping the threat on the spot, you’re NOT legally justified but “punishing” the bad guy without a trial. You’d be in DEEP fecal matter legally.

Mike Sherman
1 year ago
Reply to  Wolfe

Good point Wolfe.

Dennis
7 months ago
Reply to  Mike Sherman

It is also very impractical, what with adrenaline and moving targets involved, assuming the lighting is perfect.

Bob Stubbs
1 year ago

Speak to an attorney before you speak to the police. “Anything you say can and will be held against you”

Eric Eltinge
1 year ago

I was told that if you defend yourself with a hunting weapon and ammo (and are a licensed hunter), the police, judge, and jury will be more likely to believe you. Have an AR-15 and hollow points, not so. True?

Bob Stubbs
1 year ago
Reply to  Eric Eltinge

Hollow points are the most common hunting round. Steel or copper clad rounds are made for defeating barriers such as body armor, doors and such and will go through your target and through your wall and your neighbors wall. Hollow points cause bigger wound channels and will stop inside the target causing more blood loss and less suffering if you’re hunting. Jacketed ammo (non hollow point) is generally used for target practice and again to defeat barriers.

Wolfe
1 year ago
Reply to  Eric Eltinge

Courts no longer know what a hunting weapon is. An AR15 is a great hunting rifle.

I do carry hollowpoints. Factory made, defensive ammo. That’s my intent for my sidearm and I don’t see denying I want it effective at stopping the threat. Yes, a prosecutor may try to make a case you’re mean or whatever, and your defense should ask what ammo they’d LIKE to be shot with? Potential lethal force is just that, so don’t use it casually and don’t apologize when it is warranted …because then YOU open the question whether it was warranted. “I was FORCED to stop a threat that wasn’t stopping at any lesser measure.”

One thing you DO want to avoid is handloads. Most likely they are LESS effective, but when prosecutor says you did, can you PROVE you didn’t load them with explosives, scorpions, rat poison and distilled satanism? Factory ammo, period.

Jan E. Van Hoven
1 year ago

Most places that I have been, more or less have the same laws: you have to be in fear for your life. The intruder has to have some sort of weapon, be it a gun, knife, or has threatened you. In other words, he is larger than you. If when you point your gun at him and he runs away, then you can not shoot as the threat is gone. If he keeps coming, he is a threat and it’s safe to shoot. I agree that you will have sleepless nights and nightmares afterwards.

Wolfe
1 year ago

The standard in most states is a “reasonable expectation of grievous harm or death.” The problem is that I am old, fat and slow, and even someone my same size is going to beat the hell out of me. As far as I’m concerned, anyone breaking into my house or taking a swing at me IS a “grievous threat.” I don’t care about words, and don’t start bar fights for fun, so any such physical initiation is an attack.

As for blood tests, I don’t do drugs ever, or drink at all while carrying. Give the scumbag’s family -0- basis for claiming anything other than clear headed defense.

When meeting police, “My life WAS in danger, and I was FORCED to stop the threat. I want my attorney.” Remembering the first phrase also helps with PTSD. Be sad you were forced, not sorry you lived.

Patrick Granahan
1 year ago

If you own a firearm and have covered all your bases as to local laws and perhaps even have a concealed carry permit you may think all is well. Next you should take the time to check out what your state requires for the use of deadly force. Some states are more forgiving than others. In one state the use of deadly force against a home invasion is permitted while in other states that may not be the case….in short…educate yourself on the laws in the state you live in. Better safe than sorry.

Knowing what to say to responding police is important. Say as little as possible.
Never forget that you must have been in fear for your life before you fired your weapon

Marty Chambers
1 year ago

A local sandwich shop owner carried a gun to protect himself and others in case of a robbery. Well, a young man with a gun tried to rob him. He was able to shoot the robber and he died on the spot he fell.

The shop owner was so badly effected he had to close the business. The last I heard was he was suffering from bouts of deep depression.

Killing someone for most people is a very traumatic experience and should never be taken lightly.

In 27 years in law enforcement I am proud to say I have never shot or killed anyone. And there were times I would have been justified if I had pulled the trigger.

BuzzElectric
1 year ago
Reply to  Marty Chambers

I don’t like cops. That said, Marty thank you for your service. I do respect the need for the police. I know that I could not have done that job for 27 years. I’m glad you never had to shoot any one. I have chosen to not carry anything lethal. This forum has cemented that thought pattern.

STEPHEN P MALOCHLEB
1 year ago

Mike here’s a controversial comment. A detective friend of mine once told me that should I ever need to use deadly force, when he investigates the scene, he will ask me and my neighbors how many shots I fired. The answer from both had better be two. A warning shot, then a fatal shot. He also told me It was my decision which one was fired first. I pray that I never find this situation, but will act as needed. My life and families come first. Thanks for your articles.

Wolfe
1 year ago

ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NOT.

In MOST states, any “warning shot” is reckless handling and endangerment. You may not have controlled where you shot properly (esp. into the sky). It wastes ammo. I personally know people persecuted for putting a shot in the ground at their own feet. DO NOT drop the hammer except in actual defense.

As for two shots, I teach two center of mass, but repeat until the threat drops. Use large enough ammo you won’t need the whole magazine because that looks bad to a prosecutor even if it DID take 8 x 380s to stop the threat.

Jim
1 year ago

If you carry you need insurance. It is a small price to pay for peace of mind and security.