When Can I Draw My Gun

One of the more common questions that I get is about when it’s legal or appropriate to draw a firearm.

The short answer is, it depends 🙂

But today, I’m going to share the AEIO of when you can draw your gun…

Part of it depends on where you are…

Are you at home responding to someone trying to kick your door in the middle of the night?

Are you an armed citizen who just happens to be in a room with several armed police officers when a situation happens?

Are you alone on a trail?

Are you in a grocery store when a shopper starts bashing another shopper in the head with a can of refried beans 30 feet away?

Are you in legal possession of the firearm to begin with…either because of criminal history, state/city laws, or where you happen to be at that instant?

Let’s assume it’s legal for you to possess the firearm.

If you check your state’s laws, you’re probably going to find that brandishing or drawing a firearm in public in the presence of 1 or 2 people (depending on the state) is a crime UNLESS you’re doing it in self-defense.  In order to not get in trouble, you are going to need to articulate to law enforcement WHY you thought you needed to act in self-defense.

Were you in fear for your life or serious bodily injury?

If so, you need to be able to articulate WHY you were in fear for your life or serious bodily injury in a way that a reasonable man (or a prosecutor) would agree with.

Depending on where you’re at, there are always 3 parts to this and sometimes 4.  They are ability, opportunity, intent, and preclusion…or your ability to avoid using force.


Does the person have the ability to hurt you?

Ability can be about whether or not the person has a firearm, knife, stick, rock, screwdriver, or other tool that could be used as a weapon.

Ability has to do with disparity between the aggressor and you as well.

If Napoleon Dynamite’s friend “Kip” goes up to a roided up 20-something MMA fighter wearing nothing but a yellow speedo and starts pointing his finger in his face and yelling because his girlfriend is looking at the fighter too much…the fighter can’t use violence to solve the problem.  This works both ways.  If the MMA fighter got in Kip’s face screaming that he was going to beat the crap out of him, Kip may be justified in brandishing a firearm to prevent himself from being pummeled.

Disparity can be because of size, health, age, stage of pregnancy, or the number of people on each side of the dispute.

What if your threat stops being a threat because they fall to the ground, clearly unconscious?  Then they are no longer a clear and present threat and you don’t have justification to keep using violence.


The second requirement is that the person have the opportunity to hurt you.

An animal example would be a dog with a heavy duty collar and a secure chain that is barking at you like they want to tear you into pieces.  If the dog doesn’t have the ability to get it’s teeth into you, you can’t claim self-defense.

Let’s say you own a coin shop…a nice one that has an “airlock” / vestibule where you lock/unlock the doors one at a time to let people in.  Rifle rated glass, high grade locks, the works.  You let a guy into the vestibule and the outside door closes and latches.  At that point, instead of waiting for you to open the inner door, this genius decides to pull out a pistol and start shooting at the windows…the rifle rated windows.  After the initial shock, you laugh, calmly call the police, who come and take him away.  The guy definitely had the ability to hurt you.  He even showed intent.  But he didn’t have the opportunity to hurt you.

Another aspect of opportunity is timing.  A man with a knife, yelling at you from 50 yards away is not an immediate threat…but you may want to improve your position, check backstops, attempt de-escalation, and draw your mental “line in the sand.”  It is a completely different situation than if he’s 50 feet away from you and running.


This means that their words or actions give you reasonable reason to believe they are an immediate threat of death or serious injury.

Intent could be written in advance (text, email, etc.) or shouted in the moment.  It could be determined pretty clearly after a first strike.

In the TV show, Monk, one of the guys that Monk helped convict got a tattoo of a dagger on his forearm and a tattoo of Monk’s face on his bicep so that when he did curls, he could stab Monk in the face every rep.  If the guy got out of prison and showed that to Monk with a knife in his hand, that could be intent.

Ability and opportunity without intent is meaningless.  If you were on the same flight as Mike Tyson, he would have the ability and opportunity to seriously hurt you, but you would have nothing to fear (unless you repeatedly tried to REALLY provoke him).  He wouldn’t have any intent to hurt you so you’d have nothing to worry about.

This can change…what if a man with a knife drops the knife, turns, and runs when you draw your pistol?  He’s no longer showing intent.

Those three factors are always in play, but there’s another one that’s a little more complicated, that is:

Preclusion (This is the “E” in AEIO 🙂

This one is more complicated because of the “Castle Doctrine” and “Stand Your Ground” laws, but the gist of it is pretty straight forward and a good guideline, regardless of whether it applies to your situation legally or not.  Basically, preclusion is whether or not you could have avoided using violence.  Did you provoke or unnecessarily badger the person and create or Escalate the situation that required you to draw your firearm?  Could you have gotten away or Escaped safely?  I live in Idaho…North Idaho…we have both Castle doctrine and Stand Your Ground.  I’ve trained for violence most of my adult life, and I’d still do everything I could to distract, delay, or diffuse the situation.  My first priority is to make sure that my wife has a husband and my kids have a dad at the end of the day, month, and year.  That means not getting into situations I can avoid or get away from.

Active shooter situations and defense-of-others are 2 big black holes that are worth exploring very quickly.  Personally, I have trained to do what I could to stop an active shooter, but I would be incredibly hesitant to step into a conflict between two (or more) strangers.

It’s worth getting familiar with these terms.  When you’re thinking through self-defense situations, use them to determine whether or not you shoot.  When you’re thinking through what you’d do after the smoke clears, practice the statements that you’d make to 911 and law enforcement in terms of these factors.


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  • John Clapp

    Reply Reply March 8, 2023

    What happened to O and U?

    • Ox

      Reply Reply March 8, 2023

      O is opportunity. There is no “U” 🙂

  • rod vanzeller

    Reply Reply March 8, 2023

    In California the answer is never.

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