Can I shoot if ___?

“When can I shoot?” or “Can I shoot if?” This is what I refer to as the “What if” game. As a concealed carry instructor it is inevitable a student will ask, “Can I shoot…” followed by some random scenario that has maybe happened to them or they may have seen on recent media.

The problem with playing the what-if game is whenever we change one small variable of the scenario, the entire scenario changes.


Can I shoot if ___?

Ultimately it comes down to three things. In the teachings of Massad Ayoob, he speaks of Ability, Opportunity, and Intent. Like the fire triangle: Fuel: Oxygen and Spark, ALL three things must be present or you simply can not have a fire. The self-defense triangle is no different, ALL three things must be present for a perfect affirmative defense.

An affirmative defense is, “Yes I did this act, but I was justified in doing so.” Put otherwise, Yes I did shoot, but I was doing it to defend my life/home/property.

Does the aggressor have the ability to cause immediate death or great bodily harm? That’s is going to be dictated by the situation, the aggressor, his or her skills, his or her size, and or the presence of weapons, etc…

Does the aggressor have the opportunity to cause immediate death or great bodily harm? Opportunity is measured in time, distance, obstacles, etc… For example, an aggressor with a knife behind a chain-link fence doesn’t necessarily have the opportunity to cause harm until or unless he/she crosses that fence.

And the last variable in the self-defense triangle and probably most important is the intent to cause death or great bodily harm. The intent is tricky because we aren’t mind-readers and intent is manifest through words or actions.

I like to use the analogy of the police officer, security guard, or gun store clerk. All three have the ability to cause death or great bodily harm, which is the gun on their hip. All three likely have the opportunity, certainly, if you are within 50′ or less. However, none have the intent to cause death or great bodily harm, and that is why the use of force would not be justified.


However, we also can not conduct such a conversation about “when can I shoot” without also stating to know the specific law of the land. I can’t speak for all areas, however, Illinois has written justified use of force exonerations. I encourage you to verify everything I am saying with your criminal defense attorney because I am not an attorney and therefore this can not be considered legal advice.

Illinois allows for use of force in defense of a person. To overly summarize, Illinois law allows you to use force against equal force, but you may not escalate. You may only use force that is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to defend yourself or another against the immediate threat of death or great bodily harm against an aggressor. Immediate is a keyword (think opportunity and ability). Illinois law does not specifically state “stand your ground” nor does it state “duty to retreat”.

Illinois law allows for use of force in defense of dwelling and basically states that you may use force against someone who is trespassing upon your home. However, you may only use force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm if they entered your home in a violent manner (Think to break your window or kicking in your door). Or you may use deadly force if someone is threatening violence (see the use of force in defense of person) within the dwelling or is committing a forcible felony. Illinois law doesn’t speak to “castle doctrine” however also says nothing about the duty to retreat from your own home.

Illinois law also allows for use of force in defense of property in some situations. Illinois law allows the use of force to defend your property, however, you may only use force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to prevent a forcible felony.


But what is a forcible felony?

Twice I’ve mentioned forcible felony, so it is only fair that I define what this is for you. While the definition likely may vary slightly from state to state, Illinois law defines a forcible felony as murder, sexual assault, robbery, burglary, arson, kidnapping, aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.


Stand Your Ground, Duty To Retreat, Castle Doctrine.

While the words, “Stand your ground”, “duty to retreat, nor “castle doctrine” do not appear in the letter of Illinois law, there have been numerous cases to suggest that Illinois may be considered a stand your ground and castle doctrine state. This again is a discussion you should have with your attorney. However, even if you CAN shoot doesn’t always mean you SHOULD shoot. If given the opportunity to flee in relative safety, it may be something you probably should consider. I say this because, even if the action of using lethal force may be justified, having the baggage of taking another life is baggage you really don’t want. Knowing when you can legally use lethal force is very important. Knowing if you should use that lethal force is even more important.


Hopefully, this article sums up when the use of force is justified. When in doubt, defer to the self-defense triangle; Ability, Opportunity, and Intent. The last thing I wish to leave you with is just because you could legally shoot, doesn’t always mean you should shoot. It may be prudent to avoid, deescalate, or flee if at all possible. Dealing with the aftermath of a self-defense shooting is something you really do not wish to deal with, even if it is justified.


Be armed. Be trained. Be Alpha.



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