We’ve probably all seen it in movies and on television shows: the use of a warning shot to get the bad guys to back off. Seems like a good idea, right? In real life it isn’t.
If you reasonably believe that someone intends to kill you or inflict deadly harm upon you, you can either use deadly force against them or simply threaten the use of deadly force to get them to stop. The concept of threatening the use of deadly force does not include the use of warning shots.
Losing Self-Defense Justification
If you fire a warning shot and someone is killed by that shot, you could end up being charged with a homicide, even if the person killed is the person you were trying to scare away. In State v. Hinnant, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that a person who says they fired a warning shot is not entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense, even though they may have really been afraid of the person that they were trying to scare away.
Report to Police
If you can’t fire a warning shot to get the bad guy to back off, what can you do? As mentioned previously, you can threaten the use of deadly force, which could include everything from making a mere verbal threat all the way up to pointing your firearm at the person.
What do you do once the threat is gone? Well, I suggest that you call 911 and let the operator know that you were involved in a situation where you feared for your life. If you know the name of the person, make a police report or go to the magistrate’s office and take out a warrant against them.
These are situations that may lead to the proverbial race to the courthouse steps. This is a race that you want to win. If the other side is able to get the charges issued against you first, you may not be successful in having charges taken out against them, even though they were the initial aggressor.
For questions about this issue and other matters relating to self-defense, be sure and contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.