“If your head tells you one thing, and your heart tells you another, before you do anything, you should first decide whether you have a better head or a better heart.”                                                                                     Marilyn Vos Savant

I framed the SHOULD element of my deadly force paradigm as — do you employ deadly force and risk everything you are/have and will ever be/have. It often presents as whether you should come to the aid of another person. As suggested in my prior paradigm posts, the SHOULD analysis likely goes to the “core of your being.”  So, don’t expect the answer from another (including me (HERE) ).  Moreover, your answer will be part of a complex split-second decision you will likely make alone. Thus, it behooves you to give it serious thought and make the necessary analyses ahead-of-time.  (If you’re an LEO, you have agency requirements and training imperatives — and case law trends — to factor in as well). The key is mental preparation. Before the event, you have one or more “plans” —  if this particular balloon goes up, I disengage/leave/summon help, or I respond with X, Y, and/or Z.

Arguments against employing deadly force are the possibility of a CAN failure (you fail in your use of deadly force and your life or that of another innocent is tragically lost, or someone is unnecessarily injured) and/or a MAY failure (your use of deadly force is a “success,” but results in loss of your freedom, a felony conviction and related civil disabilities, loss of property (due to civil liability), or irreparable loss of standing and respect (self, colleagues, community, family, friends).  Thus, to minimize the chance of failure on the SHOULD, more is better on the CAN (mindset, physical fitness, equipment, and skill, sufficient to “succeed” including with firearms, less lethal, and defensive physical tactics) and the MAY (knowledge of the lawis the use of deadly force lawful, good intentions notwithstanding).

Notwithstanding my broad disclaimer, I can offer some concepts which might intersect with the SHOULD decision.  Assume you have full freedom of choice, act in good faith, are not compelled on the MUST (to a reasonable certainty your life or the life of someone you cannot live without ends if deadly force is not applied), and have more than “enough” on the CAN, and the MAY.  The SHOULD then takes front and center stage.  In no particular order:

  • Who waits at home for you?
  • Whose life is in jeopardy? A stranger? A public servant (LEO, other first responder)?  (HERE)
  • Is the threat you are responding to actually imminent?
  • Is the jeopardy to life a result of the commission of a violent crime?
  • Did you witness the entirety of the jeopardy creating event?
  • Might you be deemed an “aggressor” or other disfavored legal status?
  • Did you or another voluntarily and unnecessarily put your/her/himself into jeopardy?
  • Were/are you otherwise acting lawfully?
  • Is the event a disagreement between individuals who have “consented” to mutual combat?
  • Will innocents be threatened/harmed by your action?
  • Might less lethal be a better choice even though deadly force is lawful?
  • Is there “immunity” from criminal prosecution and/or civil action for the lawful use of deadly force in defense of self/others?  (HERE)
  • How are SYG/retreat applicable? Is pursuit involved?
  • What are your moral/religious beliefs respecting the taking of human life? (HERE)
  • Do you have to leave a safe, ensconced position?
  • Will you be fully committed?  (HERE) and (HERE)
  • Are medical/trauma supplies/care nearby?
  • Is there time to notify LE? Will LE be able to respond before deadly force is necessary?

Some (sworn and unsworn) I know and respect who go armed would routinely decline in the SHOULD moment discussed here.  For others (sworn and unsworn), it is often going to be a go, simply because it is the “right thing to do.”  Either way, as Louis Awerbuck might say, I hope you are as good as you think you are and can prevail (HERE and (HERE).  Even with good intentions and my good wishes, does it not remain a “crapshoot”?  (HERE)

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About Steven Harris

Steve Harris is an experienced attorney (member of Florida Bar, 1979) who has represented federal agents and local LEOs in duty related matters. He has written and lectured about officer involved shootings, self-defense, and use of force law, including "Stand Your Ground." Steve has been a seasoned and active competitive handgun shooter for over 20 years.


  1. Modern Service Mindset.

    This site is a gem, as well as the essay. Another one for the treasure chest / tool box.

    Thank you for putting it up.


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