Defensive Gun Use: What to Expect After a Self-Defense Shooting

So you’ve just been forced to defend yourself with your gun in a self-defense shooting. Now what do you do? In the heat and terror of the moment, your only thought was to act in defense of your life; but once the smoke clears, your mind is rattled with worry…

Should I call the police? Will they arrest me? Do I need an attorney? What do I say after having just shot someone? Should I hide my gun? Will they take my gun? What am I supposed to do now?

What does the law say about gun use for defense of self? Will law enforcement think I acted reasonably in my use of force? Do you know the self-defense laws in your area? Do you have a qualified attorney available to help?

What Do You Say to 911 After Shootings?

Your immediate response after a self-defense shooting should be to make sure you’re safe and there is no longer an immediate threat to your life. Once you’re certain your life is no longer in danger, the first thing you need to do after acting in defense of self is to call law enforcement—especially if great bodily harm has been done to you or another person. Warning: All 911 calls are recorded, so be careful with what you say! This applies not only to the time after the 911 dispatcher answers the call, but starts the moment you dial. Generally speaking, 911 calls are recorded before operators even pick up.

Anyone would be nervous about talking to law enforcement after a self-defense shooting, so make sure you stick to the following points to ensure you don’t “overshare” with the operator and accidentally talk yourself into a conviction:

  • Give your name and location.
  • Request any emergency services needed for both yourself and your assailant (e.g., EMS and an ambulance).
  • Say, “I was the victim of a crime.”
  • Hang up!

Knowing what to say—and what not to say—after shooting an assailant in defense of your life will make a huge difference in how the aftermath plays out. It is extremely important that you never tell the operator you “shot” or “killed” someone, or even that deadly force was used. Don’t give them any details of the self-defense shooting other than the bare minimum necessary to provide proper first response. Saying something such as, “I have a gun” can have a very negative outcome. All of these things and more impact your potential case and legal defense.

Unrelated to what you tell the operator in the aftermath of a defensive gun use incident is the fact that once the threat to self or others has been stopped, it is wise to holster your gun. It is not a good idea to be brandishing or otherwise holding a firearm when law enforcement arrives on the scene. Generally speaking, it's impossible for responding law enforcement officers to instantly deduce who the good guy and bad guy are, meaning they’re likely to see an unholstered gun first and foremost. Again: Assuming the threat has stopped, or put your gun in a safe or other secure place.

When Do You Talk to Your Attorney After a Self-Defense Incident?

The next (and arguably the most important) step you should take after a defense of self incident is call your attorney. If you’re smart and you’ve prepared for the worst-case scenario as a responsible gun owner, then you already have one on speed dial. If you're going to carry a gun or guns for defensive purposes, it is well worth taking the time and effort to ensure you have legal help ready and waiting before you’re forced to use your gun to defend your life. Why? Because your attorney will be able to help you talk to the police without saying the wrong thing. They know the law, all the legal jargon, and they can tell you when you shouldn’t use terms like “deadly force” and “standing your ground”—and when you should. They know how officers are trained to get you to spill the details of the incident in an unforgiving way, how to prevent you from falling for these traps, and how the legal system will use this information against you during a resulting trial. They will help you achieve the best possible outcome for the aftermath of your self-defense shooting.

Your attorney will ask you important questions about the defense of self incident, like where it happened, what you were doing, what degree of force (if any) the criminal was using, whether the criminal had a gun or other weapon, etc. Here are a few beneficial tips to make this phone call as effective as possible:

  • Stay out of earshot of others when speaking to your attorney.
  • Immediately provide emergency information (such as your location, emergency contact, a call-back number, etc.).
  • Trust your attorney’s advice and guidance!

By knowing the specifics of what happened with the defense incident and why you used the amount of force that you did, whether that included your gun or not, your attorney can help you word your official statement to law enforcement in a way that won’t get you in deeper trouble down the road. Remember, you have substantial legal protection under the attorney-client privilege. Take advantage of it! The details you share with your attorney about the self-defense shooting will remain private between you and them. But if anyone else overhears you, they could testify against you.

Chances are you’ve just had one of the worst days of your life if you were forced to protect yourself by shooting an attacker in defense of self or others. Listening to your attorney is the key to making sure you do the smartest thing possible, given the situation. They’re trained to take control in moments of uncertainty, so let them!

What Happens to Your Gun After a Deadly Force Incident?

Unfortunately, you’re not out of the woods simply because you called your attorney. What should you do during that “in-between” time after calling law enforcement but before they show up on the scene? What should you do with your gun? Should you leave your gun drawn? Should you “hide” your gun? No! This may mean law enforcement needs to search your property or person to confiscate it. And you aren’t required to give consent to their search. In fact, you should not give consent. While they still might conduct a search anyway, be clear that you do not consent.

Follow the advice your attorney gives and, most importantly, if the police ask about your gun, do not lie. If they ask if you have a gun, be honest. Any other questions beyond that should be directed to your attorney. While you might be (understandably) worried about what happens to your gun if you tell the truth, hiding your gun from law enforcement or lying about your gun will never paint you in a good light.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE POLICE SHOW UP?

So when law enforcement officers do show up, what happens? Will you be cuffed and taken to jail? Will you be drug tested? Will your gun be taken? Will you ever get your gun back? Unfortunately the answer to those questions is: maybe. All self-defense shootings are unique incidents, and there is never a guarantee you won’t be arrested initially. The truth is that certain facts of a self defense shooting, like whether you had a duty to retreat or if you were forced to protect a life to prevent imminent death, aren’t always considered by police in those frantic first moments. All they know is that they’ve been called to respond to a shooting.

If you’ve already called your attorney (as suggested), then you should be better prepared to handle whatever might happen when law enforcement and first responders show up. If you’re lucky, your attorney may even be able to meet you on the scene and directly help you from there. This is another reason it’s so crucial to call them right away and be honest with them about what happened leading up to, during, and after the self-defense shooting.

But what if you don’t have an attorney? Or maybe you have an attorney, but this specific type of law is not their area of specialty. If you’re a gun owner and do not have an attorney you trust for cases involving defense of self—get one. That goes for whether you're a gun owner who carries a gun for defensive use or a gun owner who leaves their gun at home. Don’t wait; make sure you go here and get prepared now.

All right, so you have an attorney—but you weren’t able to reach them before law enforcement officers arrived. What does that mean as far as law enforcement is concerned? That’s okay; simply remain calm and invoke your legal rights! You absolutely have the right to speak to your attorney before speaking to the law enforcement. You absolutely have the right to remain silent. It makes no difference whether the incident was a self-defense shooting or an uneventful break-in involving your dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business. Don’t toss your rights and protections out the window because law enforcement officerswere a little faster in response time. Will refusing to talk to law enforcement cause them to arrest you? Possibly. But it’s easier to get released from temporary detainment than from a wrongful conviction.

The goal isn’t to convince them to not arrest you; the goal is to protect your freedom and your rights. This is accomplished by talking to your attorney first, following their advice, and cooperating with law enforcement as much as possible—even if they’re cuffing you.

Remember, ignorance of the law is not an excuse that will hold up in court! Every U.S. LawShield® member can rest easy knowing they have direct access to the Attorney Response 365® emergency hotline and an attorney they can count on, day or night. Members also have access to archives and current educational material, enabling them to research defense-related issues and laws. If you’re not already prepared for what happens after a self-defense shooting, then check out the powerful protection of U.S. LawShield Legal Defense for Self Defense® coverage now.

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