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When Is It Ok to shoot an Intruder

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By Tom Ginevra

Well, you might think that the answer would be simple but, no it isn’t. It depends on the jurisdiction (who administers justice in your country) and it depends a lot on the circumstances. Nevertheless, this can be a life changing moment for all parties involved, you, your family and the intruder. Here are some basic guidelines for this very difficult question.

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In order to demonstrate that shooting an intruder is legal, you need to show that shooting was:

  • Necessary; in that, if you didn’t shoot them then something terrible would have happened to you, i.e., the intruder would have shot you, inflicted serious bodily harm, rape, robbery or kidnapping
  • Imminent; something terrible would have happened immediately. What is meant by this is, you can’t shoot someone who says they are going to rape you next week!
  • A reasonable response; compared to any other response like running away from the danger

As a defense, it seems that there is no compulsion to run away if the intrusion is in your own home and most intrusions in your own home would give rise to an urgent situation, meaning it must be dealt with now.

​If the intruder is armed and threatening you, then it would be considered ok to shoot first. If the intruder is unarmed it may still be ok to shoot first, especially if he or she is behaving aggressively and is physically bigger and stronger than you. If the intruder is not being aggressive then you are faced with deciding not to shoot but to threaten them with your firearm and calling the police. This sort of action requires a strong and confident personality which many of us do not possess. If the intruder is running away, then shooting them in self-defense is less acceptable.
Generally, if you feel that your life is at risk, then shoot, otherwise don’t. But, of course, it is very difficult to make rational decisions under such stressful and possibly terrifying circumstances.

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Protection of property
At no point is it considered legal to shoot an intruder for mere protection of property. Using deadly force would only be legal if it could be proved that the intruder had further violent intentions and that they were actually trespassing.
Castle doctrine
So called because it is based on adopted 18th century common law wording “And the law of England has so particular and tender a regard to the immunity of a man’s house, that it stiles it his castle”.
In certain states in the US, the castle doctrine or castle law is a legal defense. This is a legal doctrine that designates that a person’s home or any legally occupied place (could be a vehicle) is a place in which that person has protections and immunities permitting the use of force including deadly force as a defense against an intruder, free from legal prosecution for the consequences of the force used.

A person my have a duty to retreat to avoid violence if it is reasonably possible to do so. This duty to retreat does not apply in the person’s home where that person has a right to be. Deadly force may be justified as a defense in cases when the person fears in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm to themselves or another. The castle doctrine is not a defined law but rather a set of principles that can be incorporated in some form in the law of many jurisdictions.

In practice
You should always go to a safe place like your bedroom or a bathroom, lock yourself in and call the police. You can only use deadly force when your life or the life of another in your direct vicinity is in life-threatening danger beyond any doubt. When you decide to shoot an intruder in your home, there must have been no alternative – a last resort.

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For you to justify the use of deadly force, the intrusion must be unlawful, the attack must be imminent or already happening, the intrusion must not be complete, the defense must be against only the intruder or attacker and defensive action must be proportionate to the circumstances.

Bear in mind that your property is not worth more than the life of an intruder.

​Possessing a firearm at home gives you a huge responsibility to use it wisely in difficult moments. Should you get woken in the middle of the night to the sound of someone breaking in, then your heart is sure to start racing while you try to work out what to do – stay calm, breathe deeply and ensue you make the correct decision.

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