Concealed Carry: When Can You Use Deadly Force?


When can you use deadly force? The short answer is that your attacker must possess the ability and opportunity to do you grave harm—but you must also have to have done everything in your ability to avoid a confrontation.

In the new Gun Digest book Armed: The Essential Guide to Concealed Carry, author Bruce Eimer, Ph.D., provides more insight to this point:

Here’s a guy holding a knife in an aggressive manner. Can you shoot him? Not a chance, with that fence in between you. Though this guy is behaving in a threatening manner, unless he vaults over that fence like Superman, there’s no real threat to you.

When would the use of deadly force by a private citizen against another human be considered judicious? How can a private citizen be authorized to kill another human under his or her own summary judgment? The very simple answer is that deadly force is recognized as a last resort for use only when you need to save your life.

We are referring to the “doctrine of competing harms” and the “doctrine of necessity.” Put very simply, you are allowed to break the law (in this instance, kill), in the rare circumstances where following the law (not killing) would cause more injury to you or other innocent humans.

Same guy, same fence, same knife. But now you’re both on the same side of the fence. Can you shoot him? Maybe, maybe not. He’s still at a pretty good distance—do you have the time to escape and a direction in which to do so? This would be a really good time to yell, “Stop! Leave right now! I am armed!”

In reality, the answer is not so simple. Any time you even draw your gun in a social confrontation, you are walking on thin ice. If you are going to keep or carry a gun for self-defense, in addition to being well trained in marksmanship and tactics, you should be well-educated about the circumstances under which the use of deadly force is warranted legally and morally, so that you can be judicious.

Can you shoot this knife-wielding attacker, who’s now at bad-breath distance and looks like he’s about to gut you like a fish? Possibly, probably—but you have lots of other questions to answer first. Do you have a knife and are you physically equal to the attacker? Is there still time to escape? Is there any other less-than-lethal force, such as pepper spray or martial arts skills, that can diffuse this situation? You MUST think through every and all options before you draw your gun and shoot.

The Ability to Do Great Harm

Here we are talking about the concepts of power and disparity of force. Clearly, a person with a gun or a knife and the ability to use it has the power to kill or cripple you. However, you can’t shoot that person unless he has the immediate opportunity to use that ability on you and he acts in such a manner that leads you to reasonably conclude you are in immediate jeopardy. But, what about if the threat does not have a gun, knife, or bludgeon? There are several other factors that would fulfill the criterion for ability.

1. Force of numbers. Two or more threatening persons, even without identifiably deadly weapons, against you alone, would constitute a disparity of force. If they attack you and act in such a manner as to lead you to believe that, unless you do something, they are going to kill or cripple you, then you are on solid legal ground. Against a group of attackers, each member of the group shares the same responsibility for the fear the group creates in the intended victim, and also shares the danger from the intended victim’s lawful response.

2. Able-bodied versus the disabled. If you are old and frail or physically challenged and you are viciously attacked by a younger, more able-bodied man (and the criteria of opportunity and jeopardy are in play), you are on solid legal ground.

3. Greater physical size and strength. If you are attacked by King Kong Bundy, you are on solid legal ground in using a force multiplier (a weapon) to avoid being killed or crippled.

4. Training or reputation. Is the attacker a person known to you to be highly trained in the martial arts? For this criterion to be considered a valid, affirmative defense for the defensive use of deadly force, you must have known about it before you resorted to using deadly force. It is not valid if you didn’t know it at the time, but learned that it was so after the fact. You will be judged based solely on what you knew at the time.

5. Male versus female. Our society assumes that females are more vulnerable and that there is a cultural predisposition for males to be more inclined to violent physical aggression than females. So, if you are female, you are being attacked by a lone male, and the other criteria of opportunity and jeopardy are in play, you are on solid legal ground in terms of using deadly force if you have no other viable choice to avoid being killed or crippled. This would also include self-defense against rape.

To read more about the issues surrounding concealed carry and use of deadly force, check out Eimer's new book, Armed: The Essential Guide to Concealed Carry.

Bruce N. Eimer, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, NRA Certified Law Enforcement Firearms Instructor, Certified Utah Concealed Firearms Instructor, and a professional writer. His daily work includes practicing clinical psychology, conducting forensic evaluations, writing, and training people in the defensive use of firearms through his company, Personal Defense Solutions, LLC. Doctor. Eimer has testified as an expert witness in civil, criminal, gun rights, and self-defense cases. He is the owner of the popular online forum, and writes the monthly “Armed Senior Citizen” column for Concealed Carry Magazine. Doctor Eimer is the co-author of the Essential Guide To Handguns (Looseleaf Law Publications, 2005) and has contributed articles to various gun magazines such as Combat Handguns and

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  1. If you live in a woke state such as California, you have no right to use deadly force if there is even the slightest possibility to get away–even if the perpetrator is threatening you with a knife or gun. Even if you are being assaulted in your home, if you have the ability to escape through a window, you will probably find yourself in trouble if you defend yourself. And if you are white, you may find yourself under particular scrutiny if the assailant happens to be a POC. Keep in mind what happened to Mark & Patricia McCloskey when they defend themselves & their home

    Now, let’s take a look at the recent case in N.Y. City where marine veteran David Penny killed Jordan Neely after the latter had threatened to harm everybody in the subway car. It didn’t matter that Penny was aided by two passengers, one of which is black, and that they were defending ALL people on that subway car. It also didn’t matter that Neely was a career criminal with a rap sheet of at least 42 arrests including 4 arrests for assault. What matters is that Neely was black & homeless. That’s enough for race-baiters like Pelosi, AOC, & the “reverend” Al Sharpton to turn a good Samaritan hero into a bigoted murderer.

    I’m sure that many readers of this comment voted for democrats & will continue to do so in future elections. I cannot figure out the mentality of people who want to turn such virtues as right & wrong upside down. When I was a kid, crossing the border illegally was a very serious offence, but not anymore. During the ’60s & ’70s smoking marijuana was a serious offence that could land a person in a heap of trouble, but not anymore. I smell marijuana coming out of people’s cars on the road all the time. The “F” word was something I rarely heard back then, but today I hear it used all the time. Women used to dream of having babies back then, but today infanticide has become something many women celebrate. Similarly, people are also celebrating such atrocities as transgenderism. Look at all the drag queens in our nation’s schools. There are over 700 million guns in the U.S. that democrats want to remove from society. They know that’s not possible, because criminals will always have guns regardless of laws. Their ultimate goal is to make the ordinary person dependent on the government. And to make sure they win elections, they aren’t counting votes anymore. Instead, they are harvesting votes–just like they do in Maricopa County!

  2. It’s all subjective, isn’t it? No situation is the same, nor are the participants. I’d rather be safe than sorry. Look, all opinions aside, I’m going to throw out a fun fact for anyone interested: the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association provides online concealed handgun license training courses so you can obtain a CHL – and once you finish the course all you have to do is make an appointment with your Sheriff. You have the right to protect yourselves, friends. Do it.

  3. I find the article shortsighted. I have muscular dystrophy. I can stand for less that 10 minutes, walk maybe 100 yards, and would lose arm wrestling a grass hopper. If threatened my only hope is shooting fast and often. Keeping in mind that in a fight, you can do everything right and still die.

  4. The Police are the most dangerous killers out there. When they shoot they empty there gun and usually miss half of there shots. Then cover up the innocents they killed and blame it on the so called criminal they shot. I refuse to drive through or visit any state that has laws that violate the second ammendment as all gun control laws do. The Supreme court has ruled that any unconstitutional law is null and void and can not be enforced but with our legal system the average person does not have the money to hire an Attorney who may have had a hand in writing the unconstitutional laws. A public defender is most often useless as they have more cases then they can handle in the first place.

  5. Really??? I disagree with you on some of your points listed. First: I do not have to look for ways to run if I live in a state with stand your ground laws. If I can avoid the situation I will, however I do not have to for it to be justified. Second: do you really think the average person with a ccw can process that many questions in the most stressful situation in their entire lives??? I think not. the pictures posted…the first one, I get the heck out of dodge. second, I have my gun pulled and then yell what you stated to the person. third picture..i’m pulling the trigger. I do agree with smithkowitz, know the laws of your state, and pray to God you never have to make the life or death decision.

  6. There is not a National Law governing the use of Deadly Force. You Must read the laws of your state if you want to be on legal ground in it’s use. If traveling and carrying, Read the laws of the state you go to, and read the non-resident laws regarding carrying. It would be nice if there were National laws and in a sense there is (the 2nd), but we know how violated our rights are across the nation. From a simple moral standpoint; shooting or inflicting injury to kill should only be used as a last resort. That is not however what is taught to many in law enforcement across the nation (have friends in LE, trained shoot to kill). Any situation, needs to be evaluated, quickly, safely and responsibly. Here’s hoping none of us will ever be in a situation where we Need to use Deadly Force.


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