When Is Deadly Force Justified in Home Defense?

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“Can I use lethal force to defend myself?” or “When is deadly force justified?” are questions Rob Pincus is often asked. Rob encourages everyone to know the laws in their jurisdiction regarding owning firearms, having them in the home and carrying them in public. But at the moment when faced with a lethal threat, the pertinent questions are, “Should I use lethal force to defend myself? Or should I try to escape the threat?”

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28 Responses to “When Is Deadly Force Justified in Home Defense?”

  1. Scott G. Nelson

    I think this video is important for people to understand. Anyone who has taken a firearms carry permit class will hear exactly what you are saying. You should have your options thought out ahead of time. Have your family action plan in place so that they understand what to do in case there is a break-in or attempted break-in. Have a safe word so that all family members can identify themselves if they are not where they may normally be. Such as in bed during the night.

    One question I have is an important one. What if you, the person who has the firearm and is defending the family, cannot “run” or even move quickly. Such as a person with physical handicaps, injuries, etc.? If a person uses deadly force in a situation where they “should” try to run or escape, but cant’, the police may look at them and assume that they “chose” not to escape. Personally, I know many “normal” looking people who can’t move very well. Some are over weight and out of shape. Others have medical issues.

    What is your advise regarding these examples. I live in Maryland and the laws here are very confusing. Thanks for the videos. Keep them coming.
    Great question! The ‘Ask an Expert’ section is currently for members of our online community. By becoming a member, you will have access to our expert knowledge. With your membership you will also receive discounts on products and hundreds of hours of Premium content.

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  2. TumblerSnapper

    Just because you shoot somebody does NOT MEAN that you have to Kill them. What’s wrong with the notion of just ” winging ” the Perpetrator with shooting them in the foot or arm ??? And if they keep on coming after that than you shoot to to Kill ?

  3. Craig King

    Excellent piece. It points out the difference between the legal consideration and the moral responsibility. In the firearms community we focus a lot on what is legal. I don’t know if I have ever been in a class where they spoke about the moral obligation that we have. I have been considering writing something on this as I think that I am in a unique place having some NRA certifications and a good amount of training and having a MA in Moral Theology. It’s something i put a lot of time into considering. I think too often we only look at the legality of a situation and forget that even if we act legally, we will have to live with our decisions and actions long after the event has has ended.

  4. Steven Matthews

    Wrong,wrong, wrong,
    1. You have more room to defend yourself in a larger area
    2. Running outside may put you face to face, you have no control
    3. You must get control so you can work out an outcome that saves lives.

  5. Branden

    If the thug trying to break in the door is armed with a firearm I would want to surprise him as soon as he walks in the door. If I barricade my family in another room with me he could easily hear us in there and shoot though the door and hit a member of my family. The element of surprise is no longer on my side. He can set outside the room we’re barricaded in and think of how he wants to attack. I can’t see him. I want to have eyes on him from the moment he enters my home. The wife and kids will be barricaded and on the phone with police and my wife will have her ar at the ready. But me ima take the fight to the criminal trying to harm my family. I’m going to stop him or die trying. I’m not going to let him kill my kids by blindly firing into the room we’re barricaded in. I know rob wouldn’t barricade himself in with his family if a criminal armed with a firearm kicked in his door. He would seek and destroy.

  6. e

    My mother (who’s partially disabled and is pre-diabitic) and I recently experienced something similar. I was already on the phone with a sheriff describing a suspicious car and person. All of a sudden after about one or two minutes, three guys quickly opened all the doors to their luxury car and came running up the driveway. I kind of panicked but told the sheriff on the phone I was grabbing my shotgun as I quickly walked downstairs to defend my home and us. In this case I think I did the best thing because one of the guys was prepared to break a window or door. He was wearing thick green gloves and jumped one of our gates. Within seconds that I positioned myself, aiming my shotgun in various directions as swept it, the guy with green gloves showed up but suddenly left within a blink of an eye. No shots fired and all were arrested. We later saw that there were four guys, not three. One of the sheriffs who arrived told us that I did everything correctly. I was prepared to stop the threat had the threat broken into my home.

  7. Richard

    You are absolutely correct, Rob! I have read the various comments made below, many of which bring up specific circumstances that impact on how someone may or could respond to such a threat…and I know that you are well aware that no two set of circumstances are exactly the same and that the decision on how to act differs dependent on existing circumstances, abilities and skills! The bottom line is that lethal personal defense should be your action of last resort…but when you are forced to take such an action, do what you must to survive and protect your loved ones…and be prepared to justify your actions later.


    Is he kidding!? Run out of another door if someone is trying to break in the OTHER door. Who is to say the attacker won’t pop around the side of the home and pick off the family that is now STANDING OUT IN THE OPEN WITH NO COVER . Who is to say the other rooms are now safe. And who is to say there isn’t another attacker waiting at another exit? Once someone breaks into the home, most states recognise it as an attack and this nonsense of running from room to room is moot. Some of this material really could get a family killed.

  9. Vic vapor

    good video

    I myself would not tell anyone I had a firearm at any point of phone call or hollered alert.
    Running outside…. I think not.

    Good video for the questions one must ask oneself about steps for self preservation and what would a jury think.

    • EP

      It seems like a yelled warning to someone trying to gain entry could be good AND bad. The good is it might scare off someone who thought they were breaking into an empty house and had no desire to hurt anyone. The bad is that if the intruder doesn’t care if he hurts anyone, now you’ve warned him you have a weapon and lost your tactical advantage. If you called 911 and your warning is on the audio, that may help prove that you were facing a life-threatening situation and fired only in self defense.

      • epickett

        How about a warning that you’re calling the cops? That could scare off someone who thought the house was empty. But it wouldn’t give away your advantage since he doesn’t know you have a weapon…

  10. J R P

    I understand your point. And I agree to some extent. In this state, a large part of the population carries and most of those who don’t will at least have a gun in their house. I’ve been the victim of a home invasion and I did just that… called the police and retreated with gun in hand, prepared to defend myself if and when the perp got to me. In this situation, he wasn’t able to get in before the police arrived. At which point, the officer said “I’m not saying you should have shot him, but I would have if I were you”. Going outside was not an option because a) I had no idea what was out there… possibly more of this thugs gang banging “Brothers”. b) Once leaving my home, I am no longer protected by any laws and it becomes much more difficult to prove fear of death (in this state, the only defense for shooting an assailant. c) I’m standing there naked with gun in hand (no, when someone comes to kill you in the middle of the night, you do not have time to get dressed) and the last thing I need is to become a registered sex offender and lose all of my rights. If I had it to do over again, I would have shot him through the door. The aftermath of someone getting away with their crime doesn’t go away. That SOB is still roaming the streets because the state said they are the victim and not me. They decided to let this POS plea for a couple months probation. Never even made it to a court room. Meanwhile my family and I have to deal with the constant threat of this loser. Not to mention how many others since then (now that he is fully aware he can get away with his crimes) have been raped, beaten, robbed or murdered. Oh wait, I’m sure the justice system worked and his probation sentence whipped him into shape so he will never hurt anyone again. My point to this is, though I respect your opinion and thank you for taking the time to make this video, I believe that if someone is forcefully entering your home with clear intentions of doing you harm, you need to resolve the matter permanently. The police will come clean up the mess. I’m no cowboy, the last thing I want is to ever use my firearm. But no man will ever threaten my family again and live to talk about it.


  11. Samuel

    Dear Rob, I always learn a lot from your videos. Thanks so much for the work you do. I would be grateful if you could address some of the questions that have already been posted in the forum. It seems to me that exiting the home into unknown space outside or allowing the intruder to enter your home and retreating from what may be your best defensive position, in the name of avoiding a shoot (which may be coming anyway) raises many questions. The experience one of the commenters brought about not shooting a kid who had arranged to trade baseball bats is important but I think only teaches the need to be discriminate with your fire, not about the need to retreat, per se. Hope you can respond. Best, Sam

  12. Ray F

    Great video as always. I would much rather retreat from a threat than have to deal with the aftermath of my injuring or killing someone. That being said, I am 72, have heart problems and can’t really run more than a few yards and my wife is disabled and would not be able to retreat or escape. I am in a position of getting her to a safe space, get my weapon out, call 911 and let the chips fall where they may. I will never let anyone get near my precious wife. Fortunately I live in Michigan which, for now, is very friendly to self defense with its Castle Laws and No Duty to Retreat laws.

  13. Charles

    I agree to avoid when possible. But would there be less hassle if I defended my self with a knife or hand axe?

  14. skiflyfightdoc

    This is “Doc” Graham in Phoenix. This is one of the very best videos for ANY firearms owner to view, understand, and incorporate into your action plan. “Could” versus “Should” is a CRITICAL distinction than MUST be understood (for everyone involved)!

  15. Wayne Kelpin

    There are entirely too many “cowboys” running around in this country. The last thing I want to do is fire my gun. If I can do anything else to avoid it, I will. The use of my gun is a means of last resort. We get caught up with all the training and practice, all the macho hype, and our self concept of not running or hiding when we can, we just can’t pass on the opportunity to show what we can do or how tough we are. Think “leave” first, think “shoot” last. But then, that assumes that one can think.

  16. Jeff

    exiting outside IF ITS SAFE & CLEAR or going behind 2 doors is not running away, Those are opportunities for the police to do their job & you to do yours, husband , father, Its wisdom from a number of perspectives. Lets see if your teachable. Example: I’m home alone, 2 1/2 weeks prior, 4 houses in my neighborhood were broken in to, one the occupants were home and beaten. i hear someone grab the front door handle and start jerking on it i’m afraid at this point I grab my 357 and quickly run up the stairs positioning my self at the top with the pocket door pulled almost closed, revolver aimed at door, (no wireless phones back then) the door opens with a slam against the adjacent wall, and i’m yelling i have a gun and what ever else, the man, came in with a body push on the door, baseball bat in hand, heard me seen me and gun and froze, peed, and said Jimmy(my older brother)told me “I could trade bats with him. the front door sticks just push on it” (he was suppose to come that am 30 mins after my bother had to leave, door would be left unlocked). By taking a tactical position at the top of the stairs, i was able to clarify the situation, give self time to respond, retreat, into another, 2 locked rooms if needed. with that, i’m all for standing my ground, but if there’s a mental, physical, legal, tactical, advantage then i want to be open to those choices.
    “chose your battles wisely” shows true courage, remember your brain is always your best weapon. stay safe my friends.

  17. Bob

    Let see…someones beating at my door with an axe…kinda like Jack Nicholson in The Shining…and you’re saying I should call the police…and take my family out the back door maybe into the dark? or into another room rather than stop the attack as soon as the thug enters…NNNNO!

    Hey, it’s your scenario bud not mine. This is the exact kind of nonsense that gives thugs the idea that they can commit the crimes they commit. I don’t care for your advice…if you’re on the phone with 911 its being recorded. That’s potential evidence. If the axe man is on the floor with his weapon just inside your home and they find no signs of life after you’ve stopped his attack it would be pretty obvious to most jurors that you were in fear of your life.

    Lets throw in another what if o.k. What if the axe man also has a gun – uses the axe to get into the house and finds you and your family in the back room? Now you have a gunfight and your family is in the midst of it all.

    Nope…the attacker stops in his tracks crossing the threshold. Then an attorney and “Law Enforcement” get called.

    If sheeple are more worried about civil suits and potentially serving time for defending themselves or their loved ones then…DON’T DEFEND…sit on the couch or in a closet and hope! The chances are the axe man is on some serious drugs, really pissed off about something he’s not willing to discuss or wants to do something really bad…or maybe he’s just hungry and wants to make a sandwich…pretty ridiculous ha…oh and don’t get things twisted, I wouldn’t just shoot someone for trying to quietly steal a tv…but a perp with an axe? Tell it like it is and quit hiding behind insurance policies good peoples lives could be at stake! No I don’t think I’ll be joining, I carry responsibly and I responsibly carry. Response is in there right…

  18. Brian

    Rob has more knowledge in self defense than I could ever amass in three lifetimes. I fully understand and appreciate Rob’s point of view that we ‘should’ avoid the necessity of using a firearm if there are alternatives. The aftermath of ‘use of force’ cannot be taken lightly or ignored.

    Many of us chose to use a firearm as a tool to legally, morally and justly defend our families, our selves or our homes. We train, we educate ourselves and we plan in the hopes that the use of force will never be necessary. I pray that you and I will live our lives free from violence. HOWEVER, I intend to use all of that careful preparation if and when my family or I is faced with that threat. I will not hide, cower or flee in the face of evil. Even if I could successfully avoid harm tonight……. my neighbors might not be so lucky tomorrow.

  19. Andre Guionnaud istoliiii

    If you come into my house uninvited my family is endangered. If you are not armed I will ask you to leave. My pistol will have been cocked and aimed at your center mass the whole time. If. You continue towards me and my family I will shoot.

  20. Art

    i also respectfully disagree with you Rob. everyones situation is different. for instance my back yard has a 10 foot fence around it. even if you could get out and try and run a way, you are exposing yourself and family to unknowns. the police response time is also not very good, and they have no responsibility legally to protect you. there is only one person with that responsibility and that is yourself. i personally have been threatened not only recently with my life but numerous occasions in the past, i live in a bad neighborhood. right now there are more needle freak drug dealers then not on the street and i do not seem to get any response from the police. they just poisoned my 2 dogs. i will not run i will defend myself by what ever actions might be necessary. hey, that is just me and i certainly believe anyone should make their own decisions in such a grave matter. i also believe that you and your legal team could not or would not advocate lethal force, especially if you were helping pay for their defense. i will stand and fight in an area i know the best. this is my castle and i will not run, i will protect myself the best way i can, but that is just me and i am old and grouchy. if anyone even the police break into my home they will be meet with lethal force. no knock search warrants should have never been used and should be stopped immediately. there have been double digit deaths by police serving no knocks at the wrong address. when will we get back to constitutional rights in this country? this is not the america i was taught in school.

  21. Kerryd

    From a legal risk aspect I have to agree just because the laws are so tilted in favor of the criminal. From my view as a peace loving homeowner, I absolutely abhor the idea of letting any thug into my home, my safe space to do with as they will until law officers arrive. At which time they can barricade themselves inside of MY home! Makes no sense…

    • J. Z.

      I completely agree with Kerryd….If it’s your property, and they make the attempt to break in, they’re already in the wrong and should be stopped.

  22. Mark Theroux

    I always like your material. I felt the title didn’t match the content. “Justified” is more of a legal topic, whereas “could and should” is more about training and ethics. Just my 2 cents. Keep up the great work.


  23. John Richards

    I can’t necessarily disagree. However, leaving the, although temporary safety, of your home is possible, you could walk into an accomplice. Certainly make the call and get your family safe. He may walk in, but he will be carried out.

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