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Realistic Self-Defense and the Armed Citizen, Part I

Realistic Self-Defense and the Armed Citizen, Part I

By Curt Bolding©2000

Curt Bolding is a 16-year police veteran with experience spanning four jurisdictions in Illinois.Still active in his chosen profession, he currently serves as both a street officer and as a police control and arrest tactics instructor.

††††††††††† More and more these days, citizens are asking me ďhow can I realistically defend myself?ĒThe gun control debate rages ever onward, with no end in sight.Itís a political hot potato.The gun controllers are convinced that the way to keep people safe is to take the guns away.Rather than take part in that particular war at this time, weíll focus on what somebody can do to realistically defend themselves given the current laws and societal structure we live in.

††††††††††† Iím a cop in Illinois and what Iím going to give you is a general overview of the weapons laws in this state.There will be similar statutes where you live, and you need to become familiar with them.We will also briefly examine the role of the police and what a citizenís options are in regards to gun possession and transportation.When applying the law, officers deal with specific cases in which there are always different circumstances present.The police enforce the laws based on the individual set of circumstances present in any given case.That said, letís take a look at just what you can realistically expect from your police.

††††††††††† In any fairly well populated area, police response time on most calls is three to five minutes, sometimes less if a call is dispatched as being some horrendous thing thatís in progress, in which case itís red lights and siren time.Sometimes officers are there in less than a minute if they just happen to be close by when the call comes in.Realistically, though, you have to expect at least three minutes from the time you hang up the phone.If you have somebody trying to break into your home or one of your loved ones is engaged in a fight with an intruder, three minutes is one hell of a long time.

††††††††††† Now comes something that most people donít want to hear.You will not be able to depend on the police to arrive at the last moment like the cavalry and make the save.Iím not saying it doesnít happen sometimes, because it does, but the odds are vastly against it.Hereís the bad news:you have to take responsibility for your own self defense.If some guy decides heís going to mug you, carjack you, or break into your house, heís not going to do it if thereís a cop going by.Heís going to wait a while till it looks like the coast is clear.These are called crimes of opportunity.The opportunity comes when nobodyís watching.Certainly this is how the vast majority of thefts and burglaries are committed.Therefore, itís up to you to make an appropriate response, because crimes against persons usually happen before that person can summon the police.

††††††††††† Before we go any further, letís take a look at just exactly what the law in Illinois says as far as how much force an average citizen is allowed to use, and under what circumstances.We will refer to the Illinois Revised Statutes, section 720 ILCS 5/7, which specifically states:

7-1.Use of Force in Defense of Person.A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or another against such other's imminent use of unlawful force.However, he is justified in the use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another, or the commission of a forcible felony.

7-2.Use of Force in Defense of Dwelling.A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate such otherís unlawful entry into or attack upon a dwelling.However, he is justified in the use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if:

(a)††† The entry is made or attempted in a violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner, and he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent an assault upon, or offer of personal violence to, him or another then in the dwelling; or

(b)†† He reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent the commission of a felony in the dwelling.

I would expect that no matter what state you live in, the law defining how much force a citizen can use in a given situation is pretty much the same.Now then:what constitutes realistic self defense?Carrying a firearm is of course preferable in most situations.The problem lies in the laws of the state you happen to be situated in, or travelling to.Some states allow concealed carry or open carry.Illinois, where I work, allows neither, and weíll look at their laws in a minute.What every citizen needs to do is determine the laws regarding firearms for his or her own state.Itíll be right there in the state statutes; if you canít find them, call up the cop shop and theyíll tell you the exact statute numbers to look at.After you read those youíll probably have some questions, so it would be a good idea to call your local Stateís Attorney.Each county seat has a Stateís Attorneyís office (the name may vary; larger cities have district attorneys).This is the entity that conducts (or doesnít conduct) criminal prosecutions.They are the ones who can clear up for you any questions you may have as to what types of firearms related offenses that they intend to prosecute vigorously.Because the things that get prosecuted can vary so widely from state to state and sometimes even county to county, I can only give you a general overview of the law here.It is imperative that you check for yourself and have a clear understanding of how your local jurisdiction feels on these matters.†† For that matter, you may want to investigate the law in other states if you plan to transport a firearm for, say, a hunting trip.Expect it to be about as bad as when you call up the driverís licensing bureau, but eventually youíll get some answers.If theyíre too slow, remind them that youíre a taxpayer.

††††††††††† Now we come to the question of legality vs. consequence, or more clearly, what your options are in any given circumstance.In Illinois, 720 ILCS 5/24-1, Illinois Revised Statutes, is the Unlawful Use of Weapons statute.Different states have different names for their statutes.720 ILCS 5/24-1 gives a person the right to carry a concealed weapon only ďwhen on his land or in his own abode or fixed place of business.ĒTherefore, itís up to the state to prove that none of those conditions existed if they plan to prosecute.So letís look at just exactly what that statement means.

††††††††††† ďOn his landĒ is pretty clear.You can carry a gun around in your hand or stuck in your pants when youíre at home.If you want to wear a pistol in a shoulder holster under your jacket while youíre in your living room watching a James Bond movie, have at it.ďAbodeĒ has a broader meaning.Under People v. Taylor, 328 N.E.2d 325 (1st Dist.1975), the court stated that overnight living quarters met the definition of abode.ďFixed place of businessĒ is a bit more narrow.For one thing, a fixed place of business means one that is stationary, and the person carrying a gun must be the owner or have a proprietary interest in said business.Your place of employment is not necessarily considered to be your place of business.For instance, a dishwasher was found to be in violation when he brought a gun to work with him, People v. Free, 445 N.E.2d 529 (4th Dist.1983).The dishwasher had no proprietary interest in the restaurant.Or if he did, I donít think Iíd want to eat there.The penalty changed recently too, upgrading Unlawful Use of Weapons from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Generally, the other main consideration people seem to have is how to carry a gun in their vehicles.In Illinois the law just changed, and this time it changed in the right direction.Under 720 ILCS 5/24-1(a)(4), Illinois Revised Statutes, now states that you may not carry a firearm within the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle unless said firearm is:

1.††††† broken down in a non-functioning state; or

2.††††† is not immediately accessible; or

3.††††† is unloaded and in a case, firearm carrying box, shipping box, or other container by a person who has been issued a currently valid Firearm Ownerís Identification (FOID) Card.

Letís look at each of these.Broken down does not mean that itís damaged, it means that it is disassembled to the point where it will not readily function.Taking the cylinder out of a revolver or the barrel out of a semi-auto and putting them in the trunk would be an acceptable example (thereís no longer much point to doing this, however, as weíll see in a minute).Nor is it broken down just because itís unloaded.A firearm is considered immediately accessible if it is in ďsuch proximity to the accused as to lie within easy reach so that the weapon is readily available for use.ĒóPeople v. Smith, 374 N.E.2d 472 (Sup.Ct.Ill.1978).Basically, anything within the passenger compartment of a vehicle, including a locked glove box or piece of luggage, is considered immediately accessible.Conversely, People v. Staples, 410 N.E.2d 592 (3d Dist.1980) held that a firearm placed in a storage box in the bed of a pickup truck was not immediately accessible, nor was a firearm carried in the locked trunk of a car, People v. Reed, 390 N.E.2d 962 (3d Dist.1979).

Now, the big change in the law is in provision three above.You may now carry a firearm within the passenger compartment of your car as long as it is unloaded and in a case and the person has a valid FOID card.The ammunition may be carried in the passenger compartment as long as itís not in the gun.This is a very postive step towards safety on the highway.Incidentally, the law doesnít say you have to have the FOID card on your person, although I highly recommend it.If you donít have it, the police can run your name and DOB through the computer and find out if itís valid.In order to legally acquire or possess a firearm or purchase ammunition in Illinois, you have to have a FOID card anyway(430 ILCS 65/2), so you might as well keep it in your wallet.Under that same statute, if I carry a gun off duty, I have to have a valid FOID card too.

††††††††††† Whew!See why you need to learn this stuff for yourself?

Although, this recent change in the law makes lawful transport a lot easier.Letís look at a hypothetical.Incidentally, being a cop, my hypotheticals are always looking from a standpoint of an absolute worst case scenario.Thinking ahead like that helps you avoid Mr. Murphy and keeps you alive.Letís say youíre driving down Interstate 666 on your way to Scum City.Now, I-666 has a reputation for all kinds of desperadoes and other assorted foul balls travelling along it.This change in the law is an improvement, because now you can protect yourself and your family while on the road.Just make sure the gun is unloaded and itís in a case, and you have a valid FOID card.You can carry the ammo in your pocket or the glove box and load up fast if some dirtbag gets frisky.The ammo can be anywhere as long as itís not in the gun.One important thing, though:Interstate 666 probably runs through more than one state.The laws vary from state to state, so youíd better know what they are.

I am not in any way suggesting to you that you violate the law, but here are your options.It all boils down to a gamble:getting stopped carrying a weapon illegally versus whether you might need it.Everybodyís heard the old adage ďIíd rather be judged by twelve than carried by six.ĒMost of the time, if you live in a relatively safe neighborhood, I wouldnít think it would be worth the risk. Then again, if youíre planning on taking a midnight stroll through the worst slum in Scum City, a lot of people would rather risk the penalty than be caught unarmed. The bottom line is that I canít make that decision for you.I absolutely, 100% support concealed carry statutes for law-abiding citizens.But in Illinois, I donít think thatís going to happen any time soon.

††††††††††† It goes without saying that if you are inexperienced with firearms, it would be well to seek out a firearms safety course where you can learn safe gun handling, storage,and proper marksmanship skills.Familiarity with the tool is the first, best way to avoid a potentially tragic accident or injury.One other important point here:remember what this tool is designed to do.The minute you stop respecting its ability to harm you is when itís going to bite you.Doníthave an accidental discharge and hurt or kill someone.

There's an old urban legend that needs debunking here.There are a lot of people who actually think it's okay for you to shoot a guy outside your house and then drag him inside, or vice versa, however the hell your local version of that old chestnut goes.We've all heard it at one time or another.What constitutes legality in any case is whether or not you reasonably believed that your life or someone elseís is in danger, and that you had no other option than to use deadly force.The courts will look at something called the totality of the circumstances.They will look at everything involved in the individual case and what it boils down to is whether or not a situation existed in which a reasonable person would have believed that his or her life was in danger.This includes but is not limited to the size, age, gender, and physical ability of both yourself and the attacker, whether or not threats were made, and whether or not a weapon was presented.The more factors that are present that clearly indicate that you were at a disadvantage are going to go a long way towards substantiating your self defense claim.

Now, like I said before, if you have to defend yourself, having a gun is certainly the most preferable solution to most people.Iíve spelled out above how the law works in Illinois.Unless you live in a state that allows concealed or open carry, most likely the law in your state reads pretty much like in Illinois. But no matter where you are, the fact of the matter is that we donít all carry a gun with us at all times.Murphyís Law also dictates that the time youíre most likely to need a gun is the time when youíre least likely to have one on you.

Therefore, we must discuss what other options exist, namely, what your options are if threatened and youíre unarmed.Due to the length of this article already, unarmed options will be considered in Part II.

Disclaimer:This work is in no way intended to encourage or condone the violation of any law of any state.The author assumes no responsibility for any act of any person who intentionally or unintentionally misuses any of the information in this article; it is for academic study only.Finally, the author assumes no responsibility for the disappearance of any doughnuts left unattended in the authorís immediate vicinity.

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"An unarmed man can only flee from evil, and evil is not overcome by fleeing from it." --Col. Jeff Cooper

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