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Using a Firearm in Self-Defense Against a Dog Attack…

Question:  I was walking to the mailbox this morning to get the mail when a neighbor’s dog lunged, snarled and tried to bite me.  Why I was not carrying is a question that I cannot answer.  I was complacent being at home and that will now change.  I got away when the neighbor’s family came out to see what was going on and retrieved the dog.  I was at the edge of my property but still on it.  Does Arizona law allow me to shoot the animal if I feel like it will bite me?  The neighbor said the kids left the front door open and the dog got out.

Answer:

Regarding your neighbors dog and the situation you describe, the law basically is this:

Under Arizona Revised Statutes 13-3107, a person who discharges a firearm within or into the limits of any municipality is guilty of a class 6 felony.

This offense has several exceptions that permit you to discharge a firearm inside city limits under certain limited circumstances.  The one that specifically applies to your question is Section 9 of which states that you can use a firearm:

“In self-defense or defense of another against an animal attack if a reasonable person would believe that deadly physical force against the animal is immediately necessary and reasonable under the circumstances to protect oneself or the other person.”

The key phrase is ‘if a reasonable person would believe’.  In order for those six words to apply for many, the dog would have to have a history of being vicious.  Many dogs are territorial by nature and suspicious of strangers.  They will approach and bark loudly and may attempt to bite if sufficiently frightened or provoked.  Unfortunately there are a lot of people out there that would say there are other things you could do to drive the dog off without shooting it.

You didn’t say how large the dog was or fill me in on any previous experiences with the dog which are other factors that might be taken into consideration.  If the dog was very large and could potentially knock a person over in an attack or had a history of repeated attacks against you or others, the level of justification could change fairly dramatically.   Overall, I would say that unless there is a history of attacks by this dog, I’d probably suggest pepper spray vs. a firearm.  It would have the desired effect of causing the dog to break off the attack and would not result in the dog’s death or the neighbor’s lasting hatred (although they will be upset at you having pepper sprayed their dog, not only due to the dog being sprayed, but it will also be unpleasant for them to clean up the dog).

It also keeps you out of a class 6 felony charge if the judge decides that there was not enough of a threat to justify your use of a firearm.

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