What's the use of a concealed carry permit if you can't fire on a few shoplifters while defending your favorite shopping spot, right? Wrong. A Michigan woman named Tatiana Duva-Rodriguez found out the hard way that her license to carry a gun didn't give her a license to use it just because a crime was happening in front of her. In this case, no one was in any physical danger during the crime—until Tatiana took out her gun. The case brings to light something that people should be aware of when it comes to guns and their right to use them against criminals. This is what you should know.
You can't use deadly force just to protect personal property.
The law is designed with the "greater good" in mind. The value of someone's personal property (such as jewelry) takes a backseat to the value of a human life—even if that human is the thief who just ran off with your purse or watch. This is an important thing that you need to remember if, like Tatiana, you happen to be carrying a concealed weapon at the time.
You also can't lie in wait for a thief that you know is coming and shoot him or her. While many states do give you the right to shoot at intruders, that's still reserved for when you are caught by surprise. For example, if you have a henhouse in the backyard and you've been troubled by egg thieves, lying in wait with a shotgun will get you into trouble—not them. You also can't take a shot at someone that just robbed you if he or she is already fleeing the scene. For example, if you wake up in time to see a burglar slip back out the window with an armful of loot, your first response needs to be to grab the phone and call the police. Don't grab your gun and fire down the street at the fleeing robber.
Similarly, you can't use force to protect a building that doesn't have people in it, no matter how valuable the stuff it stores may be. For example, if your garage got broken into, you can't take aim at the burglars from your bedroom window, even if they're making off with your 1968 Stingray Corvette.
You can use deadly force to protect someone's life.
The use of potentially deadly force, like a firearm, is justified under the law when the other person's actions are illegal, the danger is immediate and clear, and you're acting in defense of yourself or another. For example, if the shoplifter in the Michigan case had a knife to the throat of one of the store clerks, or had been forcing a customer to man the getaway car, that could have justified the use of a gun.
In some states, if you're the one whose life is in danger during the situation, you have a general duty to retreat to safety if you can. (An exception exists if you're in your own home.) In other states, "Stand Your Ground" laws may remove your obligation to retreat to safety even if you can. You still cannot, however, pull a gun on someone who isn't threatening you or others with immediate physical harm.
You can sometimes use deadly force to protect your home.
This rule is more than a little murky, depending on which state you live in. If your state has what's known as a "Castle Doctrine," the assumption is generally made that someone who is in your house illegally is a threat and you're justified in using deadly force against him or her if you're surprised. You have no duty to retreat and you do not have to prove that you believed that they had a weapon to use against you. Some states also allow you to do the same at your place of work, or even to defend your car (if you are in it).
The exact limitations of the Castle Doctrine can vary from state to state, so make sure that you understand your state's particular laws before you pick up a weapon to defend your home from intrusion and remember that you still can't use this as a defense if you were lying in wait on intruders you expected.
It's important to keep all of these ideas in mind, but especially so if you happen to be carrying a firearm. A misinformed decision can end up putting you on the wrong side of the law, very quickly. If that happens, contact a defense attorney (such as Charles P Dargo) as quickly as possible to discuss the situation.