The legal right to Self-Defense

In its natural form and going back to the beginning of time, we have felt that we have the right to self-defense. This statement is true but if you are not aware of the specifics to a self-defense claim, you might find yourself in legal trouble. It is expected that a person has the right to self-defense and the defense of another.

You would think that such a natural act as defending yourself or another would be the same no matter where you go in the United States or worldwide, but self-defense laws vary from state to state. Some states have Castle Doctrines and Stand your Ground laws and others do not. It is important to know what actions you might need to take to re-enforce your self-defense claim.

Self-defense is the act of using force to protect yourself or a third party from imminent harm or bodily injury. So, does this mean if someone is throwing a punch at me, which could cause injury, I can draw my firearm and shoot them?

The level of force that you take will be considered during the evaluation of the incident. The level of force needs to be appropriate to the force being inflected on you. This is where the courts will apply the reasonable person rule. Depending on the force directed at you, was your responding force reasonable to defend yourself from such force?

Self-defense laws can be more complicated than they first appear. Another aspect of self-defense is whether the action taken by the assailant is imminent. Are you reacting to something that you fear might happen, or that could possibly happen, or is it immediate and occurring at that moment where if you did not react, you or a third party will be injured.

Let’s look at another aspect of a self-defense claim. Did you provoke the situation? Yes, we all at times lose our cool and say things or provoke others to react to our actions. This doesn’t rid you of a self-defense claim if the incident were to escalate, but there are other actions that you need to take in an attempt to remove yourself from the incident before you can legally claim self-defense. In other words, I can’t pick a fight and when the other party responds, I react with force and then claim self-defense. If I initiate the scenario and it turns ugly, then I need to take appropriate actions showing that I attempted to calm the situation or remove myself from the quarrel.

I’m constantly given scenarios by students of mine and asked how they should respond to such scenarios. That’s a difficult task because each individual has to articulate their reason for the fear of imminent harm. As a 10-year military veteran and 20-year retired police officer who served 7 years on SWAT, it’s a little harder for me to claim fear for my life than it is for a 120-pound female that has never had any tactical training. That “reasonable person” concept is going to look at every aspect of your life and experiences when determining whether your response was reasonable.

There are many variables to consider during a possible life-threatening event. Cooler heads prevail. Consciously tell yourself to stay calm and consider everything that is occurring around you. Panic leads to tunnel vision and the possibility of miss-reading the entire event.

In the state of Arizona, we do not have a duty to retreat, and we do have a stand your ground law. By law you do not have to take appropriate actions to remove yourself from the dangerous environment. I look at these laws as a re-enforcement of my self-defense claim, if necessary, but I don’t use it as a “why I stayed claim.” I would rather do everything I could to not act in self-defense.

You can serious injure someone or even take their life and be justified in doing so, but you still have to live with that fact. That statement is by no means advising you to not defend yourself, it is persuading you to do everything you can to not have to.


Never Stop Training!
Oz Johnson/Lead Instructor, NRA Certified
Karin Johnson/Operations Manager
[email protected]