These two cornerstones of law as related to armed self-defense are often discussed…and often misunderstood.

A decade or so ago, I discussed this at a gathering of attorneys, the annual Texas Firearms Law Seminar sponsored by the State Bar of Texas.  I wound up adapting the talk to an article in my long-running series in Combat Handguns magazine titled “Self-Defense and the Law.”

Now, if you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ve noticed that I often cite Greg Ellifretz, who I consider one of the great trainers of our time on self-defense topics.  In his excellent blog which I would urge you all to follow, Greg reminded me of that ten-year-old article.

It turns out to still be timely, and you can read it here.

Thanks again, Greg!


  1. It’s very discouraging when you realize that, after being assaulted by a criminal, victims will then be assaulted by the legal system. Maybe we have reached the point where, individuals who practice self-defense need to concentrate on knowing and obeying laws even more than they need to concentrate on their shooting skills. Shooting skills are simple compared to legal skills.

  2. Having worn blue I’m always horrified at the complete lack of court proofing in self defense classes.
    The instructor is telling people to carry out completely unjustified retaliations,. say the wrong thing in front of witnesses and to the police, carry weapons (completely illegal in the UK)….
    Seen people in practical exercies say ‘sorry, didn’t mean to hit you that hard’ and the instructor not pick them up on it!
    In the UK it’s illegal to carry a weapon; a knuckle duster is a weapon, no defense.
    Anything adapted to be a weapon; sharpen the tip of your umbrella and you are going to be arrested.
    OR anything ‘intended’ to be a weapon. You are walking down the street and think ‘If attacked I could hit them with my glasses case’; you just commited a crime.
    We were taught to ask them “what if you were attacked? You’d slash with your keys then wouldn’t you? Or that walking stick?”.
    Thankfully the police are trained, experienced and in a situation with no stress for them. But you have a five ace hand to play; the right to silence.

    • “In the UK it’s illegal to carry a weapon;”

      I am curious, just how tight is this prohibition?

      Clearly, a concealed firearm is off-the-table. Sounds like long-bladed knives and impact weapons are also not allowed.

      What about a non-lethal weapon like pepper spray?

      Or, what about something that is not a weapon but could be adapted in an emergency? For example, one of those heavy, aluminum-tube Maglight flashlights loaded with 3 or 4 batteries. Those flashlights (you still call them electric torches in the UK?) make excellent tools with which to light your way. In an emergency, they also make an excellent baton to fend off an attacker although that is not their primary design purpose.

  3. I noticed a potentially confusing, to a non-lawyer. phrase in the explanation on stand your ground. The phrase was “Place where you had a right to be”. I expect that’s meant in the general sense of being in a public place.

    Then there’s the somewhat confusing (to a non-lawyer) legal concept of “claim of right”. I’ve come to understand this appears to be a place you own, lease, rent or work. Or, a private place where you might hold membership that gives you a right to use the facilities/be on the property. While going through self defense law in a state (PA?), the commentary section included an appellate decision that if both parties had a claim of right, the duty to retreat still exists. Or did at that time.

    This is getting a bit deep in the weeds, but is there a better explanation of the “claim of right” thing?

    As for curtilage, I’ve noticed the courts seem to regard this the way they used to view pornography: They know it when the see it.

    • Correct. For example, in a domestic dispute, since each party is a member of the household, the castle doctrine is essentially off the table. The one offsets the other.

  4. I want to make an off-topic comment on Alec Baldwin, because he is back in the news.

    I don’t want to see the legal system, or patriots like myself, come down hard on Alec Baldwin. He was negligent, and he and his employees made horrible mistakes which resulted in the death of one of his employees, and the wounding of another. However, he is not a criminal. He had no intention of harming anyone.

    That movie set was unsafe. For the next ten years, movie sets will be rigorously safe, because they will be thinking about what happened on the set of “Rust.” Eventually, memories will fade, carelessness will return, and there will be another serious accident on a movie set. This is human nature.

    At a time when shoplifting is legal in many cities, crimes go unpunished, George Soros’ district attorneys release criminals so they can re-offend, and the police are suffering from low morale and low staffing, we should not be coming down hard on a non-criminal who made a serious mistake. Alec Baldwin has suffered enough, and even though I disagree with him on politics, I don’t want to see him persecuted anymore. He already hates gun people, and he doesn’t need any more reasons to hate us.

    We want the legal system to be fair with us when, in split-second, highly stressful, life or death situations, we do a less than 100% perfect job of defending ourselves with firearms. Holding non-criminals to standards of perfection, while letting criminals go free, only serves to further the “divide and conquer” goals of the Communists. They want to weaken America by turning us against each other, and proclaiming what a rotten place the USA is, and how capitalism doesn’t work. They are making America dysfunctional. They will break our system, then claim we need to support them so they can fix it, and make it better than it was before. Our fellow citizens who vote for Democrats are deluded by their utopian fantasy.

    This country has bigger problems to address than to spend time, money and manpower punishing a jerk who is not a criminal.

    • “This country has bigger problems to address than to spend time, money and manpower punishing a jerk who is not a criminal.”

      With all due respect, I must disagree.

      One very important principle, here in America, is that “no one is above the law”. Every American should stand equal before the law. That is a foundational doctrine here in America.

      Unfortunately, in recent years, we have seen this principle spat upon by the elites and by their media attack dogs. The privileged elites all behave as if to say: “You fool, laws are there to restrain the rubes. They don’t apply to us ‘important’ people”.

      Time and again, we have seen the elites get away with all kinds of crimes. We have seen the system rush to protect, rather than prosecute, people like Hunter Biden. We have seen that “10% for the Big Guy” brings no sanction. We have seen Biden brag about using his influence to dismiss a prosecutor, in Ukraine, that was investigating his son. We have also seen the law used as a “lawfare tool” to go after the elite’s political enemies.

      This has created the impression of a “Two-Tiered System of (In)Justice” here in America. It has created a view that the reality is “Laws for Thee but not for Me” when the “Me” is a rich, well-connected democrat.

      This country badly needs to get back to the idea that “No one is above the Law”.

      I saw the New Mexico Prosecutor’s Office “slow walking” any charges related to the Rust Shooting and I said to myself: “There it is again. Baldwin is rich, well-connected and a leftist. They are just killing time before they drop the case completely. It will be yet another example of “Two-Tiered (In)Justice”. In fact, I made a blog comment here, just a while back, to that effect.

      You could have knocked me over with a feather when they announce charges against Baldwin. I thought (to myself), “Well, there must have been a bitter, winter cold snap because Hades just froze over!” 🙂

      You are right. Baldwin, by himself, is nothing. However, this country (badly) needs to see some examples of the law being applied equally. Even to rich, well-connected democrats.

      Therefore, it is important that Baldwin was (finally) charged. It is also important that he go before a jury where the facts of the case are fairly presented. Then, if he is found guilty of involuntary manslaughter or some other crime, it will be important that he receive a sentence that is more that just a “slap on the wrist”.

      This country badly needs to get back to equal application of the laws. The prosecution of people like Baldwin, for their crimes, is a necessary step for that to happen.

      • I agree with much of what you’ve said. But………it remains to be seen exactly how competently and zealously the case is presented. They can still tank the case.

        I have hopes that actual justice will prevail.

    • The set was unsafe because Baldwin, a producer and generally Man In Charge, allowed it to be.
      The legal system and the media would not show a shred of mercy for any of us who negligently pointed a loaded gun at a colleague and pulled the trigger. He’s been in the industry for 40 years. He knew better. He’s been trained but chose to not take the lessons to heart because he never once respected firearms for what they are.

      I’m sorry but I don’t have a mote of sympathy for the man. He made his bed.

    • “We want the legal system to be fair with us when, in split-second, highly stressful, life or death situations, we do a less than 100% perfect job of defending ourselves with firearms.”

      Roger, you are comparing apples to oranges here. Alec Baldwin was not in a self-defense situation. He was not in a high-stress emergency where he was required to make split-second, life and death decisions. At the time this incident occurred, he was simply rehearsing a scene in a movie. He is an actor. This was routine work for him. It was not an emergency for which we need to show compassion and understanding.

      People use the fact that Baldwin is an actor to make excuses for his behavior in this incident. They say things like:

      1) It was the job of other people (the armorer, etc.) to check the gun. It is not the responsibility of the actor.
      2) The classic “he didn’t know it was loaded” excuse. The gun was handed to him as a “Cold” gun.
      3) Actors point guns at other people all the time. What is the big deal?

      The big deal, this time, is that someone died.

      Let me make a point here. It does not matter who loaded the gun. It does not matter who should have checked the gun. It does not matter, as far as Baldwin’s responsibility goes, who made that mistake. It matters, as far as the charges against the armorer goes, but not for the charges against Baldwin.

      We know that the firearm involved as a single action army revolver. We know, from FBI testing, that the firearm was not defective. That it was functioning normally.

      So, in order for this incident to have occurred, Baldwin must have (a) pointed the firearm in an unsafe direction at people, on the cast, who were not even actors and (b) Baldwin must have manipulated both the hammer and the trigger of the revolver. Otherwise, no shot could have been fired and no one could have been killed or injured.

      Those actions, alone, establish Baldwin’s responsibility in this incident. The are all his actions and are independent of who was at fault for loading the revolver and mistakenly calling it “cold”.

      Baldwin’s actions, independent of anyone else’s actions, are enough to establish reckless behavior with a dangerous device, to wit, a single action revolver. Under New Mexico Law, these two elements:

      1) Reckless behavior with a dangerous device (to wit, a functioning firearm) which,
      2) results in the death and injury of innocent parties equals Involuntary Manslaughter.

      The above, prima facie, evidence is more than enough to indict Baldwin and bring him to trial. Since no one is above the law, in America, he should stand trial and be judged by a jury of his peers. The jury can then make a final determination as to the degree of his guilt.

      That is the law and that is what needs to happen in this case. Anything less is just another example of the obscene “Two Tiered” system and a miscarriage of Justice.

      Thus ends my sermon for this day. 🙂

  5. Alec Baldwin & others on the movie set committed acts of gross negligence that resulted in the death of an innocent person. Sounds like Manslaughter to me. No doubt how that would shake out if you or I did the same thing.

  6. With respect to Mr. Baldwin, there was an article that “explained” the two counts of involuntary manslaughter per the laws of that state. BTW, a manslaughter charge doesn’t require intent.

    The first charge has to do with pretty much simple negligence. It’s a misdemeanor. [An example by our instructor- in a different state- was you and a buddy are working on a car up on jacks, with no jack stands. If a jack fails and kills your buddy, that’s involuntary manslaughter. There’ no intent involved.]

    The second charge requires that the conduct go beyond simple negligence and there’s a firearms enhancement that results in a mandatory 5 years in jail. A noted attorney previously wrote that there’s case law going back some time in the involved state that explicitly says it doesn’t matter who loaded the gun, if it was pointed at someone and the trigger was pulled, resulting in death, it’s manslaughter.


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