Marissa Alexander used warning shots to keep her abusive estranged husband at bay in self-defense. Now she faces up to 60 years in prison for those warning shots.
Second Call Defense discusses the reasons why warning shots are bad. They quote Ken Hanson’s book The Ohio Guide to Firearm Laws, Fourth Edition, pages 76-77. Even though this is for Ohio, it is good information and look into your home state’s laws to see if it applies.
Prosecutors have another term for warning shots: attempted felonious assault, improper discharge of a firearm etc. Shooting someone in the leg rather than center mass is similarly misguided and will not evade serious felony charges. Similarly, pulling out a gun just to “defuse the situation” is a legal non-starter. Do not be tempted to do this. If the gun comes out of the holster, the gun owner had better be justified in immediately employing it fully. There is no such thing as a warning shot or shooting to wound. This will be construed as a miss, bad marksmanship and perhaps even attempted murder.
This author understands the theory that the presence of a firearm might eliminate a confrontation. However, the opposite is equally true. For illustration purposes, assume the following: Someone was rudely and dangerously cutoff on a street, the horn blast that logically followed developed into the “cutter” getting out of the car to go yell at the “cuttee.” The “cutter” does not display anything other than bare hands. Unfortunately, “cuttee” then displayed his handgun in the honest belief that it would avert/end the confrontation. Bad move.
First, no threat of imminent serious physical harm or death had been made, thus the person who took out the handgun did not have any legal justification for using lethal force. Second, the “cuttee” has escalated the situation: Within his own car, without any threat of serious physical harm or death, he removed a handgun from a holster. This action clearly, in this circumstance, could be construed as a threat. Would the “cutter” now be justified in drawing a handgun of their own and shooting the “cuttee,” assuming it wouldn’t violate a duty to retreat? This scenario will always present more questions than answers, and the gun owner is going to be playing against long odds if he brandishes a firearm in a non-lethal situation.
Removing a handgun from a holster, or even possibly just uncovering and indicating the presence of a handgun, can be considered a hostile act and will be considered a criminal act. As the old saying goes, an armed society is a polite society, and people do not need to be waving guns around to accomplish this. IF YOU ARE GOING TO TAKE YOUR HANDGUN OUT OF A HOLSTER, YOU HAD BETTER BE LEGALLY JUSTIFIED IN USING IT IMMEDIATELY.
Readers, students and the general public never like this answer, but I assure you it is an accurate answer under Ohio law and has withstood the test of time and appellate cases. Any deliberate action on your part that introduces lethal force into the encounter in a manner that makes the other person aware of the lethal force, IS THE USE OF LETHAL FORCE. If you make reference to lethal force, show lethal force, hold lethal force in your hand etc., those actions are simply an alternative use of lethal force, short of pulling the trigger. If you are in a non-lethal encounter, and have used lethal force, even in this round-about, alternate way, you have escalated the encounter and will have difficulties proving your self-defense case.
It is important to understand the legal ramifications of utilizing a weapon to stop a threat. If you choose to use a weapon for self defense then it is highly recommended that you seek legal advice. Research the use of a firearm. The more knowledge you have, the better you will be.