The Aftermath of Self Defense

The defense training available at Front Sight is so thorough that they even cover what one should expect after surviving an attempt upon your life and well-being. There are two other “problems” that we must face and either endure or overcome. They are possible criminal and civil liability.

Emotionally, we can expect elation or joy at being alive after the attack is over. We might later regret what happened, especially if we had to cause serious injury, and that injury led to the death of an assailant. This regret can be especially powerful for a Christian who understands the implications of dying with unrepented sin. It means that someone has reached the end of his time of grace, and will be found lacking on the day of Judgment. That person is already subjected to suffering in the place of torment prepared for the demons, and will suffer there eternally. By contrast, as a Christian, you would be prepared to die in the certainty of Jesus’ mercy, and God’s promise of eternal life. Regret can lead to anger and doubt, and when dealing with the social consequences of surviving the battle, to fear and panic. Those emotions are not a beneficial combination when encountering “problems two and three.”

The lecture at Front Sight comes from a secular perspective, which is somewhat different from a Christian perspective. It bids us to remember that survival is the most important thing, so that whatever difficulty may come as a result of the deadly encounter is of secondary importance. We should try to retain the joy of still being alive, as we undergo the hardships of dealing with possible criminal and civil liability. You have to be alive first in order to deal with those things, and death is the worst alternative. That’s the temporal, secular perspective.

The eternal, Christian perspective is a bit different, because Christians are in the business of being prepared for death, and want their neighbors to be prepared for it too. We know that the consequence of being unprepared for death is worse than the death of one who is already prepared. As a result, we may be quite willing to die rather than have another person face the certainty of everlasting punishment. Hence, a Christian’s sense of regret and even guilt in the aftermath of a self defense situation may be quite strong. God has provided a way to deal with that in the gift of absolution, or the forgiveness pronounced upon the strength of Jesus’ atoning death. However, a wise Christian will also try to obtain an accurate perspective before the encounter takes place.

When confronted with an assailant, you will not be inside his head. The best assumption is that he has no regard or respect for your life, well-being, or property, nor any regard or respect for anyone who may be with or near you. You don’t know what his goal is. It may be to enrich himself, to prove a point, to obtain some pleasure, or any number of other things. However, when you recognize his threat to you and your neighbors’ life and property, you can be sure that he intends to harm. Likely, his intent to harm includes a willingness, and perhaps even a desire, to take a life. Those who are morally bound by the Law or by concern for the eternal well-being of our neighbors are placed at a disadvantage, because we are inclined to regard the assailant as one of our neighbors. He has no care for us, but we are inclined to care for him.

It is important to understand that Christians are responsible not only to do what we might for the eternal well-being of an assailant, but also to care for all our other neighbors too. That includes our spouse, our children, our parents, fellow students or colleagues, and any other associates. In fact, it also includes ourselves. Every one of them will be somewhere for eternity, and we should be concerned about them as much as about our assailant. Should the time of grace end for any of them, it is just as serious as for the assailant. We may be able to say, “I am ready to enter heaven this instant,” but can we say the same for anyone else?

It is also important to understand that using deadly force in self defense is quite a different thing from trying to kill someone, and also quite different from having no regard for the life of another person. In defending against an attack, we may use violence in a way that injures the assailant, but the intent is only to stop the attack, and the violence should be calculated to do that in the most effective way, preferably without killing the assailant. That is only possible with serious skills and mental preparation. If the defense uses a firearm, for example, the recommended action is to place a controlled pair of shots into the thoracic cavity of the assailant. At Front Sight, we learned that this will almost always stop the fight, and that 80% of the time, the assailant will still live to receive medical treatment. Of those who do, 80% of them will recover with no lasting physical consequences.

So the application of deadly or violent force in self defense is not necessarily the end of an assailant’s time of grace. If done with sufficient forethought and skill, and with God’s blessing, it will only end the attack, and will provide an opportunity for the assailant to repent and receive the blessing of faith before death. It will also protect all the potential victims from having their own time of grace cut short by someone who has no regard for their lives or well-being. It’s still possible that someone may die, but that’s not much different from dealing with other deadly forces that many of us encounter on a daily or weekly basis. “There but by the grace of God go I.”

All of these considerations should help a Christian to deal with the challenges that arise in the aftermath of a defensive action. They should help us to reason our way through the emotional reflexes, and to trust that God’s gracious presence is still with us. Also, remember that there will likely be a sense of guilt. That’s why God has given us private confession and absolution, as well as the rich table of forgiveness set weekly in the Divine Service.

Immediately after the use of deadly force, we should secure the area from other possible threats and call the authorities. We don’t need to be evasive about our part in what has happened, because we have been careful to use deadly force only when it was reasonably justified. Just speak the truth. Then, comply with law enforcement, remembering that they can’t read your mind to know whether your intentions are good or bad. Be courteously helpful to the investigation by pointing out witnesses that might be interviewed before you give a statement. Then, ask the officer ready to take your statement if he has any intention of charging you with a crime or arresting you. If he indicates that this is his intention, then is the time to courteously invoke your right to remain silent. It’s not that you have anything to hide, but the problems of legal and civil liability are such that the innocent are sometimes made to suffer and pay as though they were guilty of something. Justice is often not completely just.

If you will be charged or investigated for a crime, you will want an attorney who can help you best. That’s not a criminal attorney, who is more accustomed to plea barganing for clients who have committed crimes. It’s not a superstar defender of famous personalities, who has become notorious with the District Attorney and the justice system. It’s someone who has a track record of working with the DA, and may even be acquainted with him on a personal level. Once you have such an attorney, let him guide you in all public statements or discussions you may have about the case.

Criminal liability depends first upon your own actions, but it also depends upon decisions made by law enforcement, investigators, the justice system, and finally, a jury of those peers who would rather not be there, but could not get out of the obligation. From outside that system, we can logically consider whether someone has broken the law as a black and white question. Once the wheels of justice are turning, however, it’s quite possible for the conclusion to end up being factually wrong, so that “justice” is really an injustice. That’s why there are appeals, at least for those with the money to afford them. If that’s a sobering thought, remember Joseph’s example, and that God had a plan for him even through years of unjust punishment and imprisonment.

The other problem is civil liability. If you were to lose a criminal case (justly or not), you would likely also face civil liability toward the family of the assailant. In fact, you might face a civil case even if you win the criminal case. Such is the fallen world we live in. Again, remember the example of Joseph, and even Job. Remember those examples now, before the time comes when you might have to use deadly force in self-defense. The best possible outcome of self defense is when you get to keep what you had to begin with. As a Christian, I’d add that the best possible outcome would also include your assailant and all his potential victims surviving to receive God’s gift of forgiveness, faith, and eternal life.

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