Calling 911 for help is a high-stakes event and how you handle it can make the difference between being charged with a crime or facing the expense and emotional trauma of a civil suit.

Calling 911 when in trouble is a natural response, we are all trained to do it in an emergency, but the way you handle that call can significantly impact the legal aftermath of the situation.

In this blog post, we’ll provide tips for calling 911 (Do’s and Don’ts) after a self-defense incident to help you avoid turning an urgent call for assistance into a legal nightmare.

Your Mental State – How Your Body Reacts to Threats

Self-defense situations are violent, fast, unexpected and for most people it may be the first time they have been the target of an aggressive attack. Knowing how and why your body and mind react to help you prevail in a violent encounter is important for understanding the importance of following 911 call guidelines.

Sean Maloney, Attorney with Second Call Defense, said, “During any threatening encounter the body goes through psychological and physiological changes. Essentially, we are being turned into a fighting machine. Strong emotions such as fear and anger cause epinephrine or adrenaline to be released into the blood stream. These changes in our normal physical state prepare us to face danger head on. Combined, they make us more agile, allows us to take in more information and help us use energy in a better manner, gives us amazing strength, causes an increase in heart rate, our muscle strength, our blood pressure, sugar metabolism a number of other things that really turn us into a fighting machine. It all causes us to be ready for action, which we call the ‘fight or flight’ response…it prepares the body to fight…but these same chemicals also can have a profound negative effect on our memory. They affect time perception, they cause tunnel vision, they keep us focused on the threat, while at the same time cause us to miss other obvious details. They cause hearing deprivation and may make us unable to hear our own gun go off. All these things are adaptive bodily responses designed to keep us alive, and because these responses are important to our survival they work quickly, without thought and are automatic.” 

PODCAST: The Do’s and Don’ts of Calling 911

 After a violent self-defense encounter, your heart rate will likely be racing. Your blood pressure elevated. You may feel nauseous, dizzy, shaking. This is not the ideal state of mind to call 911, but you can’t wait hours for your nerves to calm, which is why it is critical to know that your mental state of mind may impact what and how you say it on the 911 call.

Before You Call – Secure The Scene!

The absolute first thing you must do after a self-defense situation is to make sure the scene is secure. This may seem intuitive, but it is critical to ensure your own safety before you get distracted placing a 911 call. Like predator animals, criminals often travel in packs. They may have scattered initially but one or more may have taken immediate cover only to continue the attack after you let your guard down. Ensure the scene is secure before placing that 911 call.

NOTE: Securing the scene is about ensuring that the immediate threat is over… securing the scene DOES NOT MEAN tampering with evidence. That my friends is not advised.

Tips for Calling 911

The Do’s

All 911 calls are recorded. Everything you say can, and will, be used against you if an aggressive prosecutor decides to press charges or a member of the attacker’s family files a civil lawsuit against you. 911 operators want as much information as possible so they will try to keep you on the phone until the authorities arrive, but the longer you stay on the call in a stressed mental state increases the chances that you will say something that could be taken out of context and used against you later. Remember that you have no legal obligation to answer questions and if you suspect an intruder is still in proximity, you probably do not want to give away your location by talking on the phone.

This is not an all-inclusive list of “Do’s” when calling 911 in the event of a home invasion or other self-defense scenario, but they are some of the most important.

Be Calm

Ensure you are calm enough to call 911. You have an obligation to call them promptly not to mention you may need medical attention or your attackers may need medical attention; but you want to ensure you are calm enough to make the call and be rational with the operator. Use breathing techniques to slow your heart rate and compose yourself.

Clearly Identify Yourself and Location

When calling 911, start by clearly stating your name, the fact that you’ve been involved in a self-defense incident, and your precise location and your phone number. Providing accurate information is vital for law enforcement to respond promptly.

Ask for Assistance

Ask for ambulance and police to respond. Even if nobody was harmed in the incident, you and/or a family member may be very stressed and might need medical attention to prevent something like a heart attack from happening.

Describe Yourself

Describe yourself to the 911 operator including your height, body type, what you are wearing and any other pertinent information that you feel is necessary so responding officers will identify you and not assume you are the bad guy. More than once a Good Samaritan was killed by responding officers who mistook the good guy for an attacker.

READ MORE: A ‘heroic’ man who fatally shot a gunman was himself killed by a responding officer, Colorado police sa

Describe the Status of the Situation – Secure or Not?

If you believe the scene is secure, let the 911 operator know that. The responding officers will have more comfort arriving at the scene if they believe it is a secure situation and they aren’t running to an active shooter situation.

Follow a Script

The best way to make the call in a way that will minimize the chance of incriminating yourself is to follow a script and hang up.

Your script could be something as simple as this:

“There has been a shooting. The person attacked me. I was in fear for my life. Send an ambulance and law enforcement. My name is _____. I am located at _____. My phone number is _____. I am wearing ___________ and will meet the officers ______________________.”

That’s it. Don’t stray from this basic information.

Call Second Call Defense

The second call you need to make, after calling 911 is to call Second Call Defense. Their SCD hotline is staffed 24/7, including holidays, by attorneys to provide assistance to you on what to do next.

TRUE STORY: A Self-Defense Story: Deadly Encounter at the Pizzeria

The Don’ts

As noted previously, remember that all 911 calls are recorded and can be used against you by an ideological prosecutor or the angry family of your attacker in a civil suit against you. The “Don’ts” are critical in keeping you out of trouble.

Don’t Volunteer Unnecessary Information

While it’s crucial to provide accurate information, avoid volunteering unnecessary details or speculations. Stick to the facts of the incident and avoid making statements that could be misconstrued later. For example, you may think you discharged your firearm twice, but the investigation later finds it was five times. That discrepancy could be construed that you lied and malign your character. Be brief, be factual and do not give unnecessary information.

Don’t Argue Your Case

You may recognize right away that there may be some ambiguity or significant context that needs explaining to justify why you took the actions you took. Do not express regret or wonder aloud how you got into this situation. Do not argue your case while on the phone with the 911 operator. The time to argue your case will come soon enough and ideally you will have an attorney handle the communication with authorities for you.

Don’t Admit Fault

Stick to the facts and let the legal system determine appropriate actions. Admitting fault will have serious consequences later, especially if you were within your legal rights with your actions.

Don’t Discuss the Incident with Bystanders

Avoid discussing the incident with bystanders or anyone not directly involved until legal counsel is present. Loose talk can be used against you in legal proceedings, so it’s best to keep your interactions limited to the necessary authorities and your attorney.

Don’t Leave the Scene

While obvious, your judgement may be off base due to your state of mind. Leaving the scene may be misconstrued as an attempt to flee, which often implies guilt. Don’t leave the scene.

READ MORE: The Five Things Authorities Don’t Want You to Know About Dialing 911!


In summary, here is the right way to call 911:

  1. Try to calm yourself down and practice some kind of breathing technique to calm you down.
  2. Call 911 once you have your faculties under control.
  3. Speak calmly and clearly (see the script above).
  4. Give your full name, your address, a very brief description of what happened (e.g., I was involved in a shooting, was in fear of my life).
  5. Tell the operator where you will be when police show up and provide a description of what you look like.
  6. Hang up.
  7. Call Second Call Defense.

Following these instructions can help you avoid tragedy and legal jeopardy.

*Second Call Defense is not insurance and does not sell or promote insurance products.  Second Call Defense is a membership organization that provides its members access to the “Second Amendment Support Foundation, Inc.,” which provides the means necessary to protect Second Call Defense members from the legal aftermath of exercising their right to self-defense. For an overview of the differences between Second Call Defense Member Benefits and traditional insurance, click here