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Having a concealed weapons permit and a firearm doesn't give you the right to use it against other people.

Deadly force should always be the ultimate last resort that you only turn to in the most extreme of situations.

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When to Use Deadly Force

What Front Sight teaches its students

A large (412 person capacity) and thankfully air conditioned class room is used for formal presentations on various topics including safety and when to use lethal force.

Part of a series on the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute; what it does, how it does it, and its relevance for you.  Please click the links on the right hand side for other parts of the series.



If you ever have to successfully use lethal force to save the lives of yourself or loved ones, Front Sight teaches us that the negative consequences to us can potentially be almost as grave and harmful as they are to the adversary you just killed.

Even the most obviously justified killing in self defense, even in your own home, may bring criminal and civil charges.  For these reasons, as well as obvious moral and ethical reasons, we were exhorted to avoid the need to resort to deadly force if at all possible.

When to Use Deadly Force

Talking now not so much about the 99.9999% of the time you're seeking to be ultra-safe with a weapon, but instead about the possible remaining 0.0001% of the time when you're in an extreme situation and need to have the ability to respond appropriately, of course Front Sight gives you some of the skills and recreates some of the situations you may hopefully never encounter where you need to deploy such skills.

But - and this is a vitally important but - Front Sight absolutely and utterly does not glorify guns and their potential lethality.  Front Sight does not advocate ever resorting to a firearm and deadly force unless and except you are in the ultimate extreme situation where you have no choice but to respond to an uncontrollably utterly threatening situation with deadly force.

Front Sight devotes multiple hours through several different lectures by different presenters to the topic of when to use and when not to use deadly force, and helps you understand the implications of what will follow if you do use deadly force.  Even if you are in the most justifiable of situations, using deadly force opens you up to all manner of criminal and civil risk, and in addition to the liability you'll unavoidably be exposed to through the legal system, you may risk social approbation, and in any and all respects, it will be a life-changing event.

The economic imbalance of civil lawsuits

One thing they told us was instantly comprehensible.  A civil suit by the person you shot or (if he dies) his family can be mounted by an attorney who charges them no money up front, but who will stand to get a generous share of any winnings they might receive when the case is settled.  This encourages victims, their families and their opportunistic attorneys to bring actions, no matter how ill founded, against people who have defended themselves.

But what about the attorney you'll need to hire to defend yourself against these charges?  There will be no cash settlement in your favor if you succeed in your defense.  So your attorney will be charging you for every minute of his time, whether you win or lose.  You could spend $100,000 - maybe even more - to defend yourself against a ridiculous lawsuit brought in response to your justifiable self defense.  And that $100,000 cost assumes you win!  The cost of going to trial may be so high, and the outcome so uncertain, that you'll probably be advised to settle with the other side for some amount of money, no matter how weak their case.

A similar imbalance with criminal charges

It costs nothing for the police and district attorney to press charges against you.  It is their job; indeed, the more they bring charges, by some measures, the better they are doing their job.

If the circumstances of your actions provoke moral outrage in the community - whether valid or not - you may find yourself facing a murder charge.

Now here's a really unfair situation :  Sometimes the cases where you are most in the right are the cases where you're most likely to suffer selective community outrage.  If you're a wealthy middle aged white male and you kill a down and out black street person in a car park, you just know that there will be a bunch of community groups that will perform their ritualistic knee jerk protests.  One might lament the lack of community groups to leap to the defense of wealthy middle aged white males.  Why is it that the so-called 'under-privileged' actually seem to have better social advocacy for their 'bad' actions than the so-called 'privileged' have advocacy for their 'good' actions?

Make it an election year, perhaps a close election race for the local DA (and/or the local judge), and some sensitivity to 'gun violence' and 'law and order' issues, and add in one or two other wild cards, and you might find yourself swept up into an ugly situation that really isn't about you and what happened to you, but instead is about broader issues.  You're merely a pawn in someone else's chess game.

All the other negative consequences arising from using deadly force

Front Sight lists a terrifying list of consequences to expect, ranging from life-imprisonment at one extreme through to all manner of other things; for example you may lose your job, your friends, you may need to take your children out of school and even move to another state and change your name.

The costs of defending yourself from criminal and civil investigation and possible lawsuits could run into tens of thousands of dollars, even hundreds of thousands of dollars, and at the end of it all, you still might be found guilty/liable.

Prevention is better than cure

The best thing to do in any situation is to avoid the confrontation.  If you hear an intruder in your house, it is better to lock yourself in your bedroom and call 911 and wait for the police - the only exception to this would be if you have other family members in other parts of the house who could be at risk.

Even if your state has a 'make my day' law and 'castle doctrine' that allows considerable freedom of action if you have an intruder break into your house, it is still better for you to cower behind the bed - naturally with your pistol and flashlight in your hands - hoping against hope that the intruder doesn't come into your bedroom, and hoping that he will leave the house, even if he leaves with all your precious silverware, electronics, and everything else.

Here's an interesting thing.  If you tell the police on your 911 call 'I have a gun' that generally encourages them to escalate their response and to come as quickly as they can.  They don't really want to have to investigate a shooting, they'd much rather arrest a live burglar than cart him away to the morgue and have to arrest the homeowner for a rightful act of self defense.

Expect to be arrested

Here's another interesting thing.  Be prepared to be arrested, no matter what.  Some jurisdictions have a rigid policy that they arrest anyone and everyone after a shooting, no matter how clear the circumstances may be.  If you're going to have a gun, and if you're prepared to use it (the two must be synonymous, by the way) then you should carry not only your concealed weapons permit in your wallet, but also the name of a good criminal defense attorney.

Front Sight also gave some very sensible advice on how to choose an attorney.  You'll have to attend their course to get this all first hand, but suffice it to say, unless you're a big time celebrity, engaging a big time celebrity attorney is probably the wrong thing to do.

If you roll the dice, be prepared to lose

Remember also two other things.

  • There's no guarantee that any confrontation with an intruder or assailant will result in you as the 'victor'.

  • And, as one of our instructors kept stressing, bad guys seldom act alone.  You might see one potential assailant, one potential mugger, one actual intruder.  But the chances are overwhelming that there is another one or more people somewhere nearby as well.

The odds are seldom in your favor.  For all reasons, avoid a confrontation if at all possible.  That's certainly the lesson I learned, and what I will do in any such situation myself.

Color Coded Situational Awareness to Avoid Conflict

We all know about the travesty of the color coded alert levels the country places itself at - we've been continually at an elevated level of alertness ever since 9/11.

Front Sight teach a more sensible concept of personal alert levels, with five levels of mental alertness.  Condition 'white' is a totally disengaged and unaware state of being - a level of awareness that many of us are at most of the time.  For example, you're in condition white when you walk past a friend in the store or on the street without noticing them.

That's a matter for mild embarrassment and even mild mirth, but think about this - if you overlooked noticing a good friend, how likely are you to spot a bad guy lurking in the shadows and a second bad guy crossing the street from behind and speeding up behind you?

Condition 'yellow' is the level we should aspire to be normally - generally aware of our surroundings and their potential to project threats and danger.

When we encounter a specific potential threat, we elevate to Condition 'orange' and urgently seek ways to avoid a confrontation and/or to minimize our personal risk if a confrontation develops.

Condition 'red' is when we are confronted with a specific real threat, and involves you taking specific measures to avoid the need to use deadly force, either by - to put it inelegantly - bravely running away, or by warning the assailant off.

Lastly, Condition 'black' represents the failure we always hope to avoid, when we finally find ourselves with no options left and become engaged in lethal combat.  At that point, you can't afford to take half measures and you've exhausted your opportunities to evade and avoid the confrontation.  As our instructors also said - better to be judged by twelve than to be carried by six.

The biggest benefit of this five level structure is not that it helps you to more quickly start shooting at people, but quite the opposite.  Similar to the saying 'a stitch in time saves nine' it was impressed upon us that the best response to any unpleasant situation is to avoid it entirely.  And so, by being more aware of things around us, we can respond in a less intensive manner earlier on - for example, by simply crossing the road well before reaching some dubious characters up ahead.

This also means, if a conflict proceeds further, we understand the doctrine of measured response, and know how to give an appropriate positive warning in a last ditch attempt to prevent the need to protect ourselves with deadly force.

This is hardly the attitude of crazed gun nuts, but rather a very responsible and sensible way of living - to seek ways to avoid conflict any way that may be possible, rather than to allow bad situations to occur and then act ineffectively so that they get worse to a point where we have no choice but to use lethal force.

Important Summary about the Use of Lethal Force

The bottom line?  Avoid confrontation at all costs.  How many times have I said this already on this page?  It is worth repeating!

Insurance will recompense you for whatever is broken or stolen.  Your pride should focus more on being wise and mature enough to have survived a potentially lethal encounter unharmed - surely that is something to be truly proud about.  Who can ever be proud about having killed someone, and who can ever be pleased at then being arrested and having the full legal system thrown at you?

Yes, Front Sight teaches you how to control your weapon for best effect in an unavoidable confrontation.  But it examines the assumption that some people make about the need for a confrontation in the first place, and encourages you to avoid that confrontation if at all possible.

This is perhaps one of the most valuable lessons Front Sight gives its attendees - true maturity comes from being able to avoid lethal confrontations, rather than by seeking them out and 'winning' them.

Part of a multi-part series

Please click the links at the top right of this page to read through other parts of this extensive series on Front Sight and the training they offer.

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Originally published 11 Sep 2010, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

Related Articles
Front Sight Firearms Training Institute - an Introduction to this Series
About the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute
Front Sight Update 2011
Gun Safety Issues
Discounted Front Sight Course Certificates - too good to be true?
Front Sight Lifetime Memberships
Join the Travel Insider at Front Sight, November 2011
The Instructors and Instruction
Front Sight's Ranges and Training Scenarios
When to use Lethal Force
What to Bring to a Front Sight Course - Pistol
What to Bring to a Front Sight Course - Essential Extras
What to Bring to a Front Sight Course - Other Valuable Equipment
What to do After Attending a Front Sight Course
Where to Stay and What to Eat in Pahrump, NV
Weather Issues in the NV desert
Traveling and Flying with Firearms and Ammunition
All About Body Armor and Bullet Proof Vests


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