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When Is It Legal to Shoot Someone

Most people will fortunately not run into any criminal assault throughout their lives. But some are unfortunate enough to face situations where there is an imminent threat of harm to themselves and their property. The law recognizes these situations and allows self-preservation of their self and property, meaning they can present a defense of self-defense in court.

The problem is when you use a gun in your self-defense. Various places can have different laws against guns. So, in this article, you will learn when it is legal to shoot someone.

Laws about Gun Possession

Just recently, the US Supreme Court has held onto the Second Amendment, which allows their citizens the right to own a gun and use it in self-defense. Some states spell out when you can use deadly force for self-defense, especially a gun.

All states will have some laws that prohibit specific people from ever buying a gun, like domestic violence offenders and convicted felons. Some outlaw specific types of weapons, like guns with silencers and automatic rifles.

The same is true in the UK, where certain firearms are completely prohibited. No agency will give you a certificate for them. And possession of one can get you into trouble without the Home Secretary’s authority.

If you want to carry a concealed firearm, like in your purse, under your car seat, or inside your jacket, you’ll need to check if local authorities will allow you to carry a concealed weapon and whether it needs a license or a permit.

Depending on what state you are in the US, illegally carrying a gun might not get you into trouble if you point it at someone or even shoot them if you have reasonable grounds for self-defense. But it’s a different story if you are in the UK or Canada, where illegally carrying a gun can get you into trouble. Citizens are even encouraged to report people suspected of illegally carrying a weapon.

The US can have different requirements in various states for gun permits. But most places agree that you must be of legal age to purchase a gun (18 years old and above). In the UK, selling guns to minors is illegal, even if it’s an imitation. Canada has a similar law, except minors can get a minor’s license to use non-restricted firearms for shooting competition, target shooting, and hunting. Although they still can’t acquire guns on their own.

That said, Australia perhaps is one of the countries to have the strictest gun laws. If you want to possess a firearm license in Australia, you need to demonstrate a “genuine reason” why you need it in the first place.  Victoria even introduced a firearms prohibition in May 2018, targeting those who want to acquire or use guns for unlawful purposes.

Guns and Traditional Self-Defense

All violent acts are not excusable just because someone threatened or made the first blow. Traditional self-defense laws require the victim to:

  • Act with reason
  • Retreat or walk away, if possible, without doing anything physical, and
  • Use reasonable force necessary to fend off your attacker.

Retreat If Possible

If someone made a threat against or assaulted you, authorities would like you to retreat if possible, instead of responding with force.

If the victim got charged, the court typically considers the victim (now the defendant) on whether they had a reasonable opportunity but didn’t take it.

For the defendant to win a self-defense argument, they need to provide evidence that retreat was impossible, like when the attack occurred, they were trapped. Or they tried to retreat, but the aggressor still followed them.

Reasonable Force

When the attacker swings his fist to try and hit you, you can’t just pull out your gun and shoot them without thinking of any other way to fend off their attack. Shooting someone under these circumstances would typically fall under excessive force for self-protection. Before you use any deadly force, you need to fear gravely getting injured or killed. And you need to prove that fear is reasonable.

What if the Aggressor Doesn’t Have a Gun?

If an attacker waives or shoots their gun at you, shooting back is legitimate self-defense. And in some cases, using one would count as self-defense even if the aggressor does not have a gun. For example, the attacker could be holding a deadly weapon like a knife or bat. And you had no other weapon except a gun. The court might rule in your favor and deem your action reasonable.

The “Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground” Laws

Most states in the US will agree that if you were under attack in your home, like a home invasion, you don’t need to retreat and escape, even if you can. In such cases, you can try to use force even if it will kill the attacker. The belief is that one should be free to defend their “castles.” And should not run away from their homes when an aggressor attacks them.

Some states even have a “stand your ground” law that lets you use a gun for self-defense purposes outside your home, extending self-defense rules and the castle doctrine.

Canada and the UK have the same rules for the “Castle Doctrine” in their country, but you could face prosecution if you continue to attack the intruder when they are no longer a threat to you. The UK government will even prosecute you if you pre-planned a trap for someone instead of calling the police.

In Australia, the government encourages you to call the cops and perform a citizen’s arrest if an aggressor comes into your home. It’s their way of balancing vigilantism and self-defense.


Nobody wants to be assaulted and threatened. And governments recognized the instinct to survive in people. That is why there are self-defense laws. But, proving to the court that you had no other way to protect yourself except shooting your attacker can be difficult. So, if you are ever in this situation, call a lawyer with plenty of criminal defense experience immediately. A lawyer can advise you on what to do to help you protect your rights in what’s typically a stressful and complicated process.


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