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Defensive Display of a Firearm…

Question:  At what point does it become “legal” to prepare to defend yourself (draw your weapon to the low ready position)?  What would be some examples?  For instance, someone pounds on your door at 3am can I go to the door with my weapon in hand.

Answer: I need to qualify things before I answer this question.  First, as stated in the disclaimer on this site, I am not an attorney and do not give legal advice.  I am simply providing my own opinions based on my understanding of the relevant Arizona law.

The question that is really being asked here is “when am I justified in using a threat of lethal force to defend myself?”.  Any defensive display of a firearm implies readiness to use lethal force.  In order do this, a person must be in a situation where the use of lethal force would be ‘justified’.  In Arizona, the threat of lethal force or use of lethal force is only justified in situations where there is an immediate and illegal threat that could result in the serious injury, permanently disabling injury or death of a person or persons involved in the situation.  Additionally, the threat or use of lethal force would be appropriate when an individual is being threatened with a deadly weapon.

Overall the entire question of justification is extremely complex from a legal perspective.  A person is generally considered to be ‘justified’ in a particular action when a reasonable person or persons, placed in the same set of circumstances would either act in a similar manner or would believe that the actions taken were reasonable and appropriate in light of the circumstances.  Clearly the possible scenarios are limitless.  Other factors that create ‘disparity of force’ can come into play as well.  These are factors like the number of attackers, their size, sex, age and the presence of any physical disability on the part of the person being threatened.  If a single individual were being threaten by multiple persons, the threat might be more serious than if that person was only being threated by a single individual.  Similarly, physical size or sex could also change the balance and correspondingly change the level of threat.  Under certain circumstances, personally observing some serious criminal acts can also justifiy the threat of or the use of lethal force.  For example, if someone personally observes a murder, they could use lethal force against the person committing the crime and would very likely be justified.

Regarding the questioner’s specific examples, let me first state that a ‘low ready’ position is a ‘range ready’ from my perspective.  If I am in a potentially deadly situation, I am more of what might be called a ‘contact ready’ type person.  In contact ready, the gun is pointed at the potential target, but slightly lowered to allow full view of the hands of the potential target.  In low ready, the gun is pointed at the ground.  If there is a true lethal threat that has justified my drawing a firearm, I am going to be pointed at the target, not the ground.

To address the example of the ‘Pounding on the door at 3:00am’, here’s what I would do.  If my family is all home and tucked in, there is no way I am going to the door.  The first thing I am going to do get to my shotgun.  If I don’t have a shotgun, then a rifle.  If I don’t have a shotgun or rifle, then I will get a handgun.  Shotguns and rifles in a proper caliber are ‘one shot stops’.  Handguns are not.  I would also have a flashlight on the nightstand and keep the lights in the house turned out.  No sense making an easy target of yourself if they break in or can see you through the windows.

Then I am going to call 911 and tell them to send the police because someone is breaking into my home.  I would get my family members to an easily defended location in the house and wait for the police to show up.  This is why I teach my students to have a home plan to escape, evade or defend.  Without a pre-defined plan, you will be improvising and that is not the best situation to be in.  If you don’t have a solid core wood door with a deadbolt on the entrance to your bedroom, you are not going to have a defensible place to wait for the police.  Give the 911 operator your cell phone number and tell them to call you when the police are on the scene or stay on the line with 911 until the police arrive.  Bear in mind that if you are talking on a landline, those could easily be disabled from outside your home.  I keep my cell phone on the nightstand for that reason.

It is a really bad idea to go to the door or even worse, open the door.  You have no idea of what is outside.  In a recent home invasion in my area, there were two men with shotguns in addition to the guy banging on the door asking for “help”.  Most civilians are NOT trained to engage multiple possible targets in a dynamic gunfight or to clear a residence where there might be burglar hiding.  Trying to do either of these things without proper training and assistance from a partner will most likely get you killed.

Currently there is a law that has been introduced into the Arizona legislature that would broaden the number and types of situations where ‘defensive display’ of a firearm would be permitted, but for now, if there is no justification for the use of lethal force, there can be no ‘defensive display’ of lethal force.

Please bear in mind that the question is quite complex and there is only so much I can go into in a written answer here.  If you don’t have it already, I strongly recommend the “Arizona Gun Owner’s Guide” by Alan Korwin as a more complete resource that includes both the relevant Arizona statutes and some really good scenarios for your consideration.

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