Should you use your gun to stop a crime?

Most of us own or carry a gun to defend ourselves and our loved ones. But should you try to defend someone outside your immediate family? Should you attempt to stop a crime in progress when you're not directly involved?

Steve Adcock of The Shooting Channel discusses using a gun to stop a crime in a recent article published at The Daily Caller.

The decision to pull your gun in public is a deeply personal one and a choice that will definitely have lifelong consequences. Depending on your state, "self-defense" may or may not help you. What if you decide to pull your gun and things get out of hand, forcing you to pull the trigger? What happens to your wife and kids if you intervene in the situation and get killed or severely injured? Or, what if you’re charged with a crime and spend several months in jail before trial? How will your family survive?

I learned through an Arizona concealed carry class that if you pull your gun, prepare for the possibility that your life, as you know it, might be over.  Whether or not the state charges you with a crime is secondary to the psychological ramifications of using your weapon. If you intervene in a crime and kill or injure someone, even when in legitimate defense of law-abiding victims, it changes people profoundly. Your life will never be the same again – I do not care how tough you think you are. Everything changes.

Consider this situation: You’re getting out of your car in a convenience store parking lot and glance inside and notice that a man is holding a gun to the head of the cashier and demanding money. First, you probably call 911. But do you run in and attempt to stop the robbery in progress? Maybe not?

But, what if you are already inside the store and waiting in line to make a purchase and the gunman is standing mere feet away from you? Do you draw your gun then and stop the crime in progress? What if you are in the back of the store instead? Do you approach the gunman if you are inside the building?

While you might think you know exactly what you would do, it may be wise to give this more thought and consider all the possibilities.

What if you're with your spouse or children? Does that change how you would respond? What about the laws of your state? Will you have legal justification for stepping into a situation that does not directly involve you? Beyond the law, what are the moral implications of choosing to act or not act? Have you considered that inserting yourself may escalate the situation and lead to a worse outcome? Just how good are your shooting skills in a real-life situation?

Using a gun against another human being poses great legal risk even when you can justifiably argue self defense. But when you're trying to stop a crime or defend a third party, the risks grow exponentially. This is not to say you should avoid acting in such situations. However, you need to understand how easy it is to make a bad situation worse and how overwhelming the legal risk is for you.

Every situation is different, and only you can decide the best course of action. But you should try to think through various scenarios and decide ahead of time in which situations you would get involved and in which situations you should simply call 911 and stand clear.