Can You Break the Law in South Carolina to Save a Life?!

The following is a video transcript.

What do you do when you inadvertently carry your concealed firearm into a place you’re not supposed to, and you need to use your gun in self-defense?

Imagine that you head into the bar to meet a friend. While you’re sitting at the bar with your friend, you realize you did not take your firearm out of your purse and are illegally carrying while in a bar because you have had a couple of beers. You decide to take the firearm to your car, but on your way to the door you see a man break a bottle on the bar and threaten a woman. He approaches her screaming that he is going to kill her. You yell for him to stop as you open your purse. He turns on you, approaching you threateningly with the broken beer bottle, telling you that you should have minded your own business. What do you do?

STAND YOUR GROUND?

South Carolina’s stand your ground provision allows you to use deadly force to prevent death or great bodily injury to yourself or to another person, or to prevent the commission of a violent crime as defined under South Carolina law.

In breaking down the statute, the requirements are threefold:

  1. You cannot be engaged in an unlawful activity;
  2. You have to be attacked in a place where you have a right to be; and
  3. You have to reasonably believe deadly force is necessary either to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to yourself, or another, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

If all three of these conditions are satisfied, then South Carolina’s stand your ground law applies, you have no duty to retreat, and you may meet force with force; including deadly force. There are limited circumstances in which the first criteria, the fact that you cannot be found to have been engaged in unlawful activity yourself, can be overridden. For example, when a 16-year-old defendant shot and killed an attacker, the court found that he was entitled to arm himself in self-defense, even though technically he was violating a law by possessing a firearm while under the age of 21. The South Carolina Supreme Court specifically stated, “a person can be acting lawfully, even if he is in unlawful possession of a weapon, if he was entitled to arm himself in self-defense at the time of the shooting.” See State v. Burriss, which was a 1999 case.

In this instance, the defendant was indeed breaking a law, but if he had not done so it may have cost him his life. His right to defend himself in those specific circumstances overrode the illegality of a 16-year-old carrying a handgun. Note, however, this case was decided prior to the passage of the stand your ground law, and at that time under the law of self-defense, there existed a duty to retreat.

THE DUTY TO RETREAT

Now under the stand your ground provision no longer exists the duty to retreat. In most cases, however, you must meet all three requirements, including the fact that you cannot be engaged in an unlawful activity yourself. If you do not meet all of these requirements, you will not qualify for this protection. Since the stand your ground provision became law in 2006, there have been no cases on point to give any guidance as to how the court would decide this issue today.

In our previous example, it would seem to fit the logic of the South Carolina Supreme Court in their examination of the Burriss case, in that a person can be acting lawfully, even if his possession of a weapon is unlawful, when protecting himself or others under the stand your ground provisions.

If you have any questions about where you can legally carry your firearm and what to do if you inadvertently carry into a gun-free zone, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.

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