Let me start by stating that I am not a lawyer and you should seek legal advice for any questions you have on these matters. What you will read below are excerpts from my Permit To Carry curriculum that has been approved by the Minnesota BCA.
When carrying a pistol for self defense knowing the laws governing use of force is critical. Laws vary by state and this article will deal mainly with the law in Minnesota. Minnesota has some of the most restrictive use of lethal force laws in the nation, outside of Washington DC. With the exception of our Duty to Retreat, I fully support the rest of the law; more on that later.
Before talking about the law, we must first talk about mindset. Knowing all the laws governing the use of force do you no good if you are not willing to use force. If you are going to use a firearm for self defense, you have to be willing to take another person’s life and live with the repercussions; this is the hardest thing for most people to come to terms with. Don't delude yourself into thinking you are going to fire a “warning shot” or "shoot him in the knee"; that will get you killed quicker than not having a gun at all. If you use a firearm in self defense, you shoot to stop the threat. In many cases this will cause death. Make the decision right now, are you willing to take a life to save your own?
In Minnesota you must meet four criteria to be legally justified in using Lethal Force:
1. You must reasonably be in immediate fear of great bodily harm or death to yourself or another.
2. You must be a reluctant participant.
3. You must have no reasonable means of retreat.
4. No lesser force would suffice, lethal force was a last resort
1. Reasonably be in immediate fear of great bodily harm or death (GBHD for short) -
The threat must be immediate. The attacker must have the immediate means and
opportunity to carry out his threat. A verbal threat to injure or kill you is not enough. In addition, great bodily harm is a legal measurement that implies injuries so great that death is likely or possible, or that you’ll be disfigured or crippled permanently or for a significant period of time.
How do you know if you are in immediate fear of great bodily harm or death?
I look at three things: means, proximity and intent.
Means - Does your attacker have the means to inflict great bodily harm or death? This will vary for each person, because the judge, prosecutor and jury are going to look what disparity of force existed. A small woman or man may be able to express reasonable fear of GBHD simply based on the size and strength of an attacker; whereas a 6’4” 250lb. man would have difficulty showing fear of GBHD if attacked by an unarmed small woman. However, that same woman with a knife or gun would change the situation substantially. Just remember, when the time comes, you must be able to convince a jury that your attacker had the means to cause you fear of GBHD.
Proximity - Your attacker must have the proximity to use whatever “means” he/she has. Shooting someone armed with a knife at 25 yards away, is going to be pretty difficult to explain in court, however that same person with a gun and the story may be different.
Intent - Someone having the means and proximity to cause you GBHD is not enough. That person must also show intent to immediately do you GBHD. A man holding a gun in a parking lot who has shown no intent to do anyone harm can not be legally shot because you were afraid.
2. You must be a reluctant participant - I believe this should be a key component of any use of lethal force law and I am happy it is part of Minnesota’s. This stipulation in the law ensures that someone can’t start a fight then shoot the other person because they were “losing.” What it means: in a deadly force situation, you cannot be seen as the aggressor. That is, you must not be the person who started or escalated the conflict.
3. You must have no reasonable means of retreat - In Minnesota this only applies outside of your home (home is your actual physical place of abode and does not apply to your yard, garage or outbuildings). It means that if you can do so safely, you are expected to retreat from a potential confrontation, rather than stand your ground and defend yourself. It does not mean that you have to retreat from a bad situation into a worse one, but it does mean that you need to leave a confrontation if you can. It should also be noted that the obligation to retreat never ends. For example, if you are able to wound an attacker such that it opens up an opportunity to retreat safely, you MUST
4. No lesser force would suffice; lethal force was a last resort - Beyond the legal standard that lethal force should only be a last resort, you should hold yourself to the same moral standard. There is no valor in having to take the life of another person. The law requires that if you can stop the threat with something less than lethal force you must, although it doesn't require that you try something other than lethal force first. As was hinted at earlier, relative size and strength of the attacker(s) and/or victim matter. For example, a large man being attacked by an unarmed, much smaller woman, may have lesser-force alternatives rather than resorting to deadly force. In the reverse scenario, the disparity of force may mean that the smaller woman might have no alternative other than immediately resorting to deadly force.
At the end of the day you have to remember that people have followed all of these guidelines and still had legal troubles, while others have disregarded some of these guidelines and faced no prosecution. It is up to the prosecutor, judge and jury as to whether they believe you are legally justified in using lethal force. Remember, even if you are not charged criminally, you can still be sued in civil court.
IF IT IS NOT WORTH DYING OVER IT IS NOT WORTH KILLING OVER.