In our last newsletter, we shared three real-life stories of people fighting off a wild bear attack. These scenarios beg the question: How can a person legally defend themselves against an attacking animal?
We asked your Independent Program Attorney to answer this question for you, so you will know what to do if you are attacked by an animal.
These sort of vicious animal attacks happen every day in the Lone Star State, so what can you do to stop them? The answer, from a legal perspective, is more complicated than you would think.
If you look through the Texas statutes, there is no one place to find a comprehensive man vs. animal answer. Animals, both domestic and wild, are discussed in various places in the Penal Code, the Health & Safety Code, and the Parks & Wildlife Code. It would be nice if the legislature had written one clear and comprehensive statute addressing the issue of use of force against animals, but as it now stands we must look to the hodgepodge of animal laws for guidance.
Texas law allows deadly force against animals classified as “dangerous wild animals” in Texas Health & Safety Code Sec. 822.101. This provision lists the following animals (or any of their hybrids) as “dangerous wild animals”: lions, tigers, ocelots, cougars, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, bobcats, lynx, servals, caracals, hyenas, bears, coyotes, jackals, baboons, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas. This list is very important because these are the only animals for which a specific justification of self-defense of a person is statutorily authorized. The legislature has addressed using a firearm as self-defense against these specific animals by making it a defense to the crime of disorderly conduct by discharging a firearm in a public place or across a public road if “that person who discharged the firearm had a reasonable fear of bodily injury to the person or to another by a dangerous wild animal as defined by Section 822.101.” Killing these specific animals is also a defense to the charge of cruelty to animals as written in Texas Penal Code Sec. 42.092(d) which states, “It is a defense to prosecution under this section that: the actor had a reasonable fear of bodily injury to the actor or to another person by a dangerous wild animal as defined by Section 822.101, Health and Safety Code.”
You may be asking yourself, “why cougars and bears, and gorillas?” The answer lies in the purpose of Chapter 822 of the Health and Safety Code, which governs the ownership of wild animals for entertainment, exhibition, or profit. This list is comprised of animals which are not traditionally domesticated animals but are in some cases allowed to be kept in captivity. So, if you are out and about and are confronted by one of the animals listed in Section 822.101 which has escaped from confinement, and you have a reasonable fear of bodily injury, you may shoot without fear of prosecution for disorderly conduct or cruelty to animals. This list is conspicuously short and does not cover every non-native wild animal which may be held by a zoo, circus, or safari park.
It is not likely that we will ever have the opportunity to be confronted with a deadly scenario dealing with a “dangerous wild animal” or other non-native wild animal, however, the real possibility exists that we could be in a position to face a dangerous domestic animal or an angry livestock animal. What happens in this situation? Well, there is no statute that provides you the specific authorization to defend yourself or another person from an attacking animal that is not a “dangerous wild animal.” However, Texas law does recognize a very broad justification to potential criminal liability called “Necessity” which is defined in Texas Penal Code Sec. 9.22:
Conduct is justified if (1) the actor reasonably believes the conduct is immediately necessary to avoid imminent harm, (2) the desirability and urgency of avoiding the harm clearly outweigh, according to ordinary standards of reasonableness, the harm sought to be prevented by the law prescribing the conduct and (3) a legislative purpose to exclude the justification claimed for the conduct does not otherwise plainly appear.
Since self-defense is not specifically excluded from any of the Texas laws regarding human interaction with animals, “necessity” would appear to be available as a defense in any animal killing prosecution case. As with any self-defense case involving humans, your actions will be evaluated against those of a reasonable person. That is, the law will look at all of the circumstances surrounding the use of your firearm to see if a reasonable person would have acted the same way. So long as a reasonable person would have used deadly force to stop the attack, you should not be criminally liable for your actions.
Until now, we have been talking about Texas law. What about federal law? The federal law has actually had the foresight to specifically provide that a person may kill an endangered animal in self-defense, such as the regulations concerning the Mexican Wolf in 50 C.F.R. Sec. 17.84(k)(3)(xii), or the Grizzly Bear in 50 C.F.R. Sec. 17.40(b)(i)(B). Unlike the Texas statutes, this makes the federal law clear and comprehendible. Therefore, if you are carrying your concealed handgun in a national park and you find yourself face to face with a Grizzly Bear, you can use your gun without fear of federal prosecution.
To View the law for defense against animals in other states click on the state names below: