Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Michigan Concealed Pistol License Class: Warning Shots

Almost without fail, a student in the Concealed Pistol License (CPL) classes that I teach will bring up the topic of "warning shots." A warning shot, often seen in movies and television programs, occurs when a person intentionally discharges a firearm in the general direction of a person without the intent of causing harm. This article will explain why a person should never issue a warning shot.

A Firearm Is A Tool Of Last Resort

Pulling the trigger of a firearm is using lethal force. In Michigan, the usage of lethal force is only authorized under a narrow band of simultaneously occurring circumstances: The shooter must be in a place where he has a legal right to be, and the shooter must not be committing a crime, and the shooter must have both a reasonable and honest belief that he is in imminent jeopardy of severe bodily harm, sexual assault, or death.

If a person is facing imminent harm from an assailant, he would probably not have time to "issue a warning shot." Rather, that person should be using whatever training, tools, and talents at his disposal towards eliminating the threat to his safety. In other words, he "should" be shooting his assailant in his center-of-mass until he is no longer a threat. To do otherwise, could imply that there was no imminent threat. Discharging your firearm at a person who is not a threat could lead to criminal charges. Thus, you should discharge your firearm at a threat or not discharge your firearm at all.

Bullets Don't Have Names On Them

Moreover, a warning shot could literally backfire and cause additional legal problems for the shooter if the shooter hits an unintended target. If a shooter intentionally discharges his firearm - whether it is aimed directly at a threat or in another direction in the general area of the potential threat - the intent to fire "legally" travels with the bullet until it reaches its eventual resting place.

Bullets do not have a predictable path when they glance off of hard surfaces, such as a body of water, a building, or the pavement. Accordingly, an issued warning shot could then "accidentally" hit an unintended person. The intent to fire travels to the struck person. Legally speaking, the shooter of a warning shot could be in the unenviable position of having "intentionally" shot someone who was not a threat to him. In legal circles, this scenario may be called murder or manslaughter.

Do You Have The Nerve To Protect Yourself?

A person under an impending and imminent threat, may elect to issue a warning shot because he does not want to hurt his would-be attacker. Rather than focusing on the elimination of the threat, the shooter wants to merely bluff to his attacker that he has the will to pull the trigger of a handgun.

In many cases, an attacker may retreat when confronted with the display of a handgun and an intentionally errant shot. However, a more seasoned and determined criminal may be emboldened by the shooter's lack of will and apparent cowardice to defend himself with a shot aimed for the threat's center-of-mass.

A person who lacks the will to defend himself with a handgun - by shooting a threat's center-of-mass - should not carry a handgun. A gun owner's lack of will to defend himself could eventually lead to the handgun being taken from the owner, the owner getting beaten and/or shot with his own gun, and another illegal handgun being available for future crimes via the local black market.

Bottom Line:

A person legally carrying a handgun should never issue a warning shot. If his immediate circumstances are such that Michigan law authorizes him to use lethal force, he should do so without hesitation. However, if he lacks the will or the courage to shoot a threat to his safety in its center-of-mass he shouldn't carry a handgun for personal protection.
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