Protecting Property With Deadly Force:
A Misunderstood Concept
by John Glatthar
The question arises in many of our Nevada CCW classes as to whether one can legally defend one’s property with deadly force. A surprising number of people have come to believe – incorrectly - that you can never defend property with deadly force. That is simply untrue.
I am sure this topic comes up in classes being taught in all 50 states, but I can only speak to what the Nevada statutes say. Speaking not as attorney, but as firearms instructor who is expected to be knowledgeable about the subject matter, there are serious consequences involved here. Generally speaking, deadly force is justified if one has reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm. That is the standard which you must meet in the criminal justice system, but there are many legal “landmines” along the way. Rarely are things black and white in an investigation. And there WILL be an investigation. Even if you did everything “right,” a zealous anti-gun prosecutor (e.g. AG Eliot Spitzer from NY) might want to run you through the legal gristmill, simply for using a gun in self defense. You can read countless such horror stories in anti-gun states and jurisdictions.
The answer to the question as to whether you can you legally use deadly force to protect and defend your private property is “it depends.” That is probably not the answer you seek, for there are many variables and factors at play here, including, but not limited to, the jurisdiction, the type of property which is being stolen, the value of the property, the location where the criminal activity is occurring, the race or ethnicity of the parties involved, and so much more. The important question is: were you in danger?
Read the statute that addresses this question: NRS 200.120. “Justifiable homicide” defined:
Justifiable homicide is the killing of a human being in necessary self-defense, or in defense of an occupied habitation, an occupied motor vehicle or a person, against one who manifestly intends or endeavors to commit a crime of violence, or against any person or persons who manifestly intend and endeavor, in a violent, riotous, tumultuous or surreptitious manner, to enter the occupied habitation or occupied motor vehicle, of another for the purpose of assaulting or offering personal violence to any person dwelling or being therein.
A “crime of violence” means any felony for which there is a substantial risk that force or violence may be used against the person or property of another in the commission of the felony.
With these definitions in mind, would it be lawful and justified to shoot a car thief from within your residence as you witness him attempting to steal your vehicle in your driveway? Car theft is a felony, regardless of the value of the vehicle, and no one wants his or her car to be taken without permission, but can you argue that there was substantial risk that force or violence was being used against in the midst of this felony? As you were safe in your house, it would be nearly impossible to make that argument.
Now, let us say that you arm yourself, exit your house, and confront the thief in the driveway. You demand in clear, forceful language that he stops what he is doing and to leave the area immediately. Let us say that the thief runs away, leaving you with a broken side window. Distressing and upsetting as that may be, that can be dealt with by calling your insurance company to file a claim to replace the glass. Call the police as well, to make a report. Do you have a surveillance camera with video footage that you can provide them? That would be helpful.
A different scenario
Now let us say that when you confronted the thief, he turns on you and threatens you with a weapon of some sort in hand – a crowbar, metal pipe, anything. A-HA! Now is there is a substantial risk that force or violence may be used against you in the commission of this felony? You bet there is! Can you use deadly force to defend yourself now? NRS 200.120 indicates that homicide would be justified. Nothing says, however, that you must shoot the thief, but you do have “green light” to do so.
The counter-argument to this might be that you willingly put yourself in jeopardy by going outside and confronting the thief. Instead of that, you should have stayed inside your home, called the police, been a passive victim, a good witness, and allowed the thief to have taken – unimpeded - what he wanted to steal. I, for one, do not agree with that approach.
The counter-argument to being a sheep is that we are not required by any legal, moral, or cultural standards to be passive victims. We can defend ourselves and our property - it is a basic human right! We can act as sheepdogs when the wolves come out. We can take a proactive approach, within limits. Such limits might include your physical inability to defend yourself. Your 90-year old grandmother, for example, would likely be better off staying in her house and yelling at the thief from inside to get away! Police are on the way! I have you on camera! Run! Younger men and women might take a more assertive approach. The sheepdog approach.
Do not expect that the police will magically appear when you wish them to. In early America, well before the advent of police agencies as we now know them, we made citizen’s arrests. It is an act which is still legal in all 50 states! They are seldom done and rarely heard of today, but still legal. Within limits, of course.
The example herein was hypothetical and fictional. To read some real stories of people defending themselves and their property with firearms, visit the Armed Citizen website. You might be surprised to learn how frequently Americans use guns for this purpose.
One more thought: Crime prevention is far more preferable than having to deal with the legal, civil, and personal aftermath of a crime. Criminals are predators and must assess risk before engaging in criminal activity. Give them something to think about –an unambiguous indication that the risk is unacceptably high, and they will most likely go elsewhere. We would hope.
(Warning: Scary warning sign. May not be appropriate for your neighborhood)
At Semper Firearms Training we encourage you to buy a good firearm, get trained in how to use it, and continue your firearms training as part of a defensive lifestyle.
Please be sure to watch these two important videos and to send the links on to a friend:
- Good Guys With Guns: http://www.good-guys.us/premiere/
- Innocents Betrayed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zN0Xi8no6us
Images courtesy of Oleg Volk
Semper Firearms Training
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Sparks, NV 89441
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