Stop the silly sissyness about having to know the law!

Let’s do a Gedankenexperiment .

Let’s assume that your most likely deadly force encounter was to involve two assailants, one who faced and threatened you, and another who always lurked in the shadows and waited to attack you until you managed to put down the threat that faced you.  It’s a good bet that much of your training — and the time, energy and money that it involved — would be centered around effective skills, techniques and tactics to deal effectively with both assailants.

Well, the criminal scrutiny that faces you after a shooting is not likely — it’s a certainty.  Even if you were completely morally right, but legally not perfect, you can easily go to jail for decades, lose every dollar and asset that you own, lose your job, family, and all prospects.  While dealing with this prospect is a secondary consideration to the first of surviving the encounter, it is so serious that it is secondary only in name — it’s really the second act of a single play.  And it’s not just you who faces this second attacker, your family does to, in ways that I trust are obvious.

I hear you saying that you shouldn’t have to worry about such things.  Well, you shouldn’t have to worry about being attacked in the first place.  Yet you’ve accepted the fact that the world is the way it is and not the way you’d like it to be already in that you carry a weapon and have invested considerable (I hope) time and energy in training with it.  Why then deny the reality of the legal consequences?

Sure, the law isn’t always the champion of justice that you’d like.  Suck it up, buttercup: it is what it is; you have to deal with it.


I’m NOT saying that you ignore gun skills in favor of learning the law, I’m saying you get good at BOTH.  Like you need to know how to read AND do math.  Life’s tough.

Objection 1: But that’s not FAIR!  OK – here’s an analogy (and like all analogies and all metaphors, it eventually breaks down, but it does illustrate a point).  You’re going to a set of two  interviews for a new job.  The first interviewer expects you to show up in business casual attire, which you do.  The second has an expectation (and you know it) that you’ll wear a suit and tie…but you don’t because, you know, it’s only fair that you should be judged on your skills not your clothes.   And of course you don’t get the job.

You get no sympathy from me.

Objection 2: I shouldn’t need to learn the law — I have a RIGHT to carry a gun and defend myself.  Another analogy.  I’d argue that you certainly have a right to wire your own home any way you please.  But I’d also hold you in contempt if you didn’t know the electrical code and just took the wiring advice of the guys down at the local watering hole.  And I’d want you thrown in prison if your ignorant, crappy job cost the life or health of an innocent person.

You do have a right to buy and carry a gun, and you do have a right to defend yourself.  You also have an moral obligation do so legally, and to do an adequate job of legal preparation and training.  If not for the consequences to yourself, then to your family who will suffer nearly as much as you do if you go to prison for even a righteous, but illegal, shooting.  Most people spend countless hours shooting…and none — none– on legal prep and education.  Is asking that you spend $25 on a book, maybe a hundred for a seminar, and then a few hours on scenarios, too much to ask in light of all the time you spend putting rounds downrange?

Or maybe you like the group showers in prison.

Besides, it is my concern, indirectly, if you shoot someone wrongly or otherwise misuse a gun.  You cost me tax money to prosecute you, and you cost me dearly by tarnishing the reputation of gun owners, who are one supreme court justice away from confiscation.  Your behavior reflects on me, rightly or wrongly.  So straighten up and fly straight.

Objection 3: I’ll just know when to use my gun – it’s common sense.  It is NOT.  You literally don’t know what you don’t know; unless you’re a legal expert in this area you have no idea what you’re talking about.  The law is complex and not always intuitive.  Sometimes it seems that it’s way too complicated, and that the deck is stacked against both you and common sense, and sometimes that might be right.  But often the law is the culmination of centuries of common-sense decisions by serious people, and you simply haven’t thought the issues through from stem to stern (and probably don’t even know what they are).  Lots of seemingly “common-sense” stuff is like that.  In fact, whatever you do for a living, assuming it’s not digging ditches or washing dishes, probably seems easier and more ike “common-sense” to someone outside the field than it actually is.

Objection 4: I shouldn’t have to spend money to learn the law.  Well, nothing’s free.  Another analogy.  The first amendment gives you the right to free speech.  You can say any ignorant, foolish, even dangerous thing that you want (so long as the speech itself doesn’t put someone in imminent danger).  Yet I trust that we all detest the countless ignoramus that bloviate all over our culture.   If someone suggested that they actually learn something before they spouted off, they might object that “I have a right to my opinion” and “learning stuff costs money!”  They’d be right.  But the flip side of rights are responsibilities– even if most people ignore them and there’s no penalties for doing so.

The right to be armed doesn’t mean that you get guns for free.  Neither does the commensurate responsibility of knowing the law of use-of-force mean that you get that knowledge for free.  Most gun people have no problem repeatedly spending money on their guns, so what’s the big deal about spending a very small percentage of that on knowing what the hell you’re doing with them?  Andrew Branca’s book is $23.  You can’t afford that????

That is all; rant over.  For today!  🙂






11 thoughts on “Stop the silly sissyness about having to know the law!

  1. FYI, the Kindle version of “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” is $9.99, and Kindle readers are free on pretty much every IT platform, so you do NOT need a dedicated Kindle device.

    $9.99. Just sayin’. 🙂

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense


  2. An understanding of the legalities is important, but just as important is training with those legalities in mind. Some friends and I have been conducting force on force scenarios a couple of times a month. We each bring a scenario, usually obtained from an incident report or video, we spend the afternoon watching movies, eating dinner, playing darts ect. while each person takes a turn setting up and running their scenario on the others so that each of us goes through between 5 and 8 scenarios without any idea what will happen beforehand. Sometimes shooting is appropriate, sometimes it isn’t, and sometimes it depends on how things are handled. A few weeks ago one of us brought a scenario taken from a video of a convenience store robbery. In the video 3 men with guns entered the store. The clerk drew a handgun and fired at one of them. When he did so the other 2 turned and ran. In our scenario, the shooter was a customer standing in front of the register when 3 armed men came in, one of whom pointed his gun at the clerk. When the shooter engaged the other 2 dropped their weapons, turned and fled. Of the 7 of us who were subjected to this scenario 3 shot 1 of the fleeing subjects and 1 shot them both. All of us are aware of the legalities (3 of us are or will soon be lawyers). Reviewing the video of our runs we all recognized the problem, but had this been a real encounter 4 of us would likely face prosecution for homicide.
    You often write about the importance of legal education. You also often write about the positives and negatives of competition and competition based training. I think these subjects are related. The guy that shot both unarmed fleeing gunmen is also the fastest of us and regularly wins IDPA and IPSC tournaments. I have spent a lot of time researching the law of self-defense in our state and I am currently a third year law student so I understand what I am researching, but I still shot one of them.
    We are currently developing training plans to combat this. Beyond force on force we are focusing on cognition drills requiring decisions, computations, or response to commands between shots. Any ideas for such training would be greatly appreciated.


    • Hey Richard,

      Good points, all. Here at Law of Self Defense we’ve just begun incorporating experiential learning and simulator-based decision-making into our Law of Self Defense Seminars, primarily through the use of high-end judgmental shooting simulators, such as the PSATS-LE system from LaserShot, and the even higher end Virtra system used by our seminar host Threat Dynamics in Portland.

      Essentially we spend several hours lecturing on the law of self-defense, defense of others, defense of property, specific to the laws of whatever state we’re speaking in that day, then we finish the day with an hour or two of simulator work, debriefing each “shooter’s” use-of-force decision in front of the class so that every student benefits from each shooter’s experience.

      This works great when our hosts already possess a high-end simulator, but of course many of our hosts do not. We’ve looked into obtaining our own traveling simulator, but at present the cost is prohibitive given our relatively limited anticipated use of the system.

      As a more cost-effective alternative, we’re now planning to develop a series of use-of-force scenario videos. These are similar to what might be seen with a simulator, but we won’t have need of the simulator’s sophisticated means of tracking precise hits. For our purposes the hits don’t really matter–we’re training use-of-force decision making, not marksmanship–so we can notionally presume the hits are good for our purposes). The videos will be run using simply the same LCD projector we already use for our seminars, with very basic branching options.

      As part of this initiative, rather than produce all the videos ourselves we plan to reach out to the broader training community and invite people to download our scenario scripts and produce videos themselves. Those that do can share them with us, and if they are of sufficient quality we’ll add them to our library.

      Contributors of videos will obtain some degree of access to the other videos in the library, mostly in proportion to their contributions to the library. Active graduates of our Law of Self Defense Instructor Program will also have access to this video library.

      The scenario scripts will be developed by myself and a professional colleague who is a career Federal law enforcement officer and combat veteran with extensive personal and educational (Doctorate) level expertise in the physical and cognitive aspects of fighting. He’ll be building the “fight” elements (e.g., pre-attack indicators) into the scenarios and I’ll be providing the legal analysis.

      In this way we hope to develop a diverse set of realistic, well-built, training-suitable use-of-force video scenarios complete with expert legal analysis at a cost that will be ridiculously affordable compared to the simulators costing tens of thousands of dollars (most of whose capabilities are simply not really required for judgmental training purposes).

      We’re still in planning stages on all this, but expect to be sharing substantive news of the program within the next 3-4 weeks.

      –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense


  3. Good golly! Do people really express the views in this post? I know people who are too lazy to learn the law and people who disagree on the meaning of what they have read, but none who are so stupid as to make these kinds of excuses.

    For the cost of a box of ammo (pretty cheap ammo at that, given the current sale), you can buy Andrew’s book. It took me two days to read it (I only read the table entries for 2 states; reading the tables in their entirety would take slightly longer). I am not a fast reader. I know people who could read this book in a day. That is a pretty small investment. Shoot; read it once a year and check Andrew’s blog for state-specific updates, and you still haven’t invested much. Way too easy to not do!


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