Do You Understand What Reasonable Force Really Is?

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Do You Understand What Reasonable Force Really Is?

September 14th, 2023

5 minute read

Editor’s Note: The statements reflected in this piece are the author’s opinion and do not constitute legal advice. Please familiarize yourself with your local laws. has no business relationship with any of the legal products mentioned in this article.

understanding reasonable force
Do you know when using deadly force to defend yourself is reasonable? Internet memes and gunshop talk are unlikely to prepare you for the realities of a self-defense shooting. Image: Adobe/Axel Bueckert

A petite women whacks her 250-lb. body-building boyfriend with her rolled-up yoga mat. He shoves her into the apartment wall. Is that response an application of reasonable force? How about if she calls him a lousy good-for-nothing name and he grabs her by the throat and shoves her up against the wall — feet dangling? Is it reasonable then that she pulls a pistol from the small of her back and keeps pulling the trigger until he lets go of her throat? Was that a reasonable and necessary application of force?

man attacking woman
If an attacker is unarmed, would it be considered reasonable to use a firearm in self-defense? Image: U.S. LawShield

Unfortunately, there is no simple set of rules when it comes to the application of reasonable force. In addition, each state has its own legal interpretation of reasonable force. Generally speaking — and just to be clear, I am not a lawyer — the person who uses deadly force should have a reasonable belief that bodily injury was about to be inflicted. In addition, that person should use a reasonable amount of force to stop the attack. Let me paraphrase: I was in reasonable, articulable fear for my life or that of my family and loved ones.

Thinking It Through

Consider this case. A senior citizen is at the movie theater watching a matinee when he asks the person near him to stop texting as it’s distracting. That person responds by spewing profanity, pushing the elderly man, and throwing popcorn in his face. So, the old timer pulls a gun and fires a round at the man. Is that a reasonable use of force?

As I said, I’m not a lawyer, but I have spoken to many about reasonable force and do know there needs to be legal justification for anyone to use deadly force. A good rule of thumb is that the use of force must be justified by the circumstances that gave rise to the threat. Remembering that sentence should be part of your daily EDC routine.

police investigating a self defense shooting
When the police arrive, they don’t know if you are a victim or an attacker. All they know is someone has been shot, and it still may be an active crime scene. Image: U.S. LawShield

The girlfriend started the encounter described in the beginning of the article by whacking her boyfriend with a rolled-up yoga mat, which is hardly a deadly weapon, but the boyfriend’s response was to push her against the wall. He’s obviously a hulk and much stronger, and the throat grab was obviously not a de-escalation tactic on his part. At that point, her life would appear to have been in danger, and she responded. If you were sitting on that jury, would you think her actions were reasonable and justified?

I am purposefully not giving you all the facts in these examples because I want you to see the incidents through a different lens. The lens of the police, perhaps, who don’t know that you are the “good guy” when they arrive on scene.

We live in a world of soundbites, and the popcorn shooting incident might seem to many of you like a clear case of excessive use of deadly force. There are conditions and qualifiers to these situations, too. For example, the argument for self-defense is notably undermined if you are the initial aggressor or provoked the person to attack you. But what constitutes instigating a confrontation?

Understanding the Parameters

More than 30 states have “stand-your-ground” laws where you have the legal right to defend yourself from a threat of violence without first being required to retreat. While these laws do establish your justified right to defend yourself, obviously retreating or getting out of the situation as fast as if possible can be a sound option in some cases.

shooting a hellcat in self-defense
Do you know what comes next if you are forced to shoot an attacker? Do you know how to safely interact with responding officers and how to assert your rights?

What some people who EDC fail to think about is their responsibility after the shot. Even if you think the use of force is justified, you may face criminal and civil charges. Whether you were innocent or not, there is a process you must go through.

Organizations like U.S. Law Shield offer defense of their members when charged for the use of a gun. USCCA is another option for self-defense liability insurance. These organizations, and many others, offer training to help you understand what is a reasonable use of force.

I look at it this way. I invest in good equipment — gun, ammo, holster — and I train religiously. All of this prepares me for before I fire my gun. I need to have the loop come full circle and have legal support for after a shot I might be forced to take.


Being forced to defend yourself is one of the most traumatic situations you could ever face, and one that I hope none of us ever have to experience. In cases like these, many times people are in a state of disbelief and can’t believe that someone is attacking them. But, if you train properly you will be prepared to face that threat. And with proper preparation for after the shot, you will be on as sound a footing as possible.

Editor’s Note: As stated above, nothing in this article is legal advice. We strongly recommend seeking out qualified counsel in your state for any legal questions you may have. Further, trainers like Massad Ayoob offer excellent training courses that teach how to avoid confrontations as well as what to do when one is forced upon you. At the very least, consider reading Ayoob’s book “Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self-Defense, 2nd Edition”.

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Robert A. Sadowski

Robert A. Sadowski

Robert A. Sadowski has written about firearms and hunting for more than fifteen years. He has trained with some of the country’s finest firearm instructors in handguns, rifles/carbines, shotguns and long-range shooting. He is the author of numerous gun books, including 9MM — Guide to America's Most Popular Caliber, a #1 New Release on Amazon. He is a contributing editor to numerous gun-enthusiast magazines and websites, including Combat Handguns, Black Guns, Gun Tests, Gun Digest, Gun World, Ballistic,, SHOT Business, and others. He also edited Shooter’s Bible Guide to Firearms Assembly, Disassembly, and Cleaning; 50 Guns That Changed the World; and Gun Traders Guide.

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