These highlights are from the Kindle version of The Law of Self Defense: The Indispensable Guide to the Armed Citizen by Andrew Branca.

There were 5.4 million murders, rapes, robberies, assaults, and sexual assaults in the US in 2014. There were another 10.9 million burglaries and thefts. That’s a crime for every 20 people and a violent crime for every 60 people—in one year alone.

Being prepared to defend yourself against criminal predation lies at the core of what it means to be free.

Criminals, like predators in nature, do not attack when conditions favor the prey, when the sheepdog is alert beside the sheep. Predators attack when the prey is vulnerable and unprotected. In other words, when the cops can’t respond fast enough.

Avoid looking weak, and the bad guy will seek easier prey. Stay alert and aware of your surroundings. Project confidence. Avoid places where you can get cornered, and make yourself look like more work than you’re worth.

The officers responding to the scene are not there to be your friend and provide solace after a harrowing experience. They are there to determine if what happened was a crime, and find the bad guy. Unless you live in a very small town, or are prone to get into routine trouble with the law, these officers will be strangers to you. To them, you’re just another face among the often unpleasant, and sometimes murderous, people they are obliged to deal with every day.

The people tasked with prosecuting you also don’t know you. Your file is just one of many hundreds that come across their desk. They will not consider what is in your best interest. They will prosecute you if they think your case is vulnerable. Period. That’s their job.

The judge knows nothing of you personally, either. If the prosecution successfully indicts (and, as the author Tom Wolfe so famously put it, a decent prosecutor can get a ham sandwich indicted), then expect to go to trial, spend several hundred thousand dollars in the process, and burn through months to years of your life; all the while with a possible murder conviction hanging over your head and your entire future in doubt.

Now, all those treacherous legal waters I just described still assume that everyone is fair and impartial. That is not always the case. A “good bust” can get a cop a promotion; a large investigation can make a detective the next chief. Prosecutors routinely use their position to advance to political office, and those who are elected are politicians already.

In this book we cover the five fundamental elements of a self-defense claim: innocence, imminence, proportionality, avoidance, and reasonableness.

Every element must be present for you to win (unless an element is legally waived for some reason, and then it’s no longer required). You can think of them as five links in a chain from which your liberty is hanging. If even one of those links breaks, the chain breaks, and your claim fails.

A “standard of proof” is the amount of evidence needed for a jury to find you guilty. For our purposes here, there are two relevant standards: proof by a preponderance of the evidence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Proof by a preponderance of the evidence means that it is more likely than not that a certain story is true. I like to think of this as 50% plus the slightest smidgeon. This standard of proof is the norm in civil court cases, where one party is suing another. Whichever side has the slightest majority of the evidence on their side is deemed the “winner.”

The criminal justice system recognizes that no jury can ever arrive at a verdict with 100% confidence. After all, they weren’t there. They are relying on the carefully screened evidence of the case presented to them in court in order to inform them about what happened. But witnesses can lie and evidence can mislead. Because no juror can be 100% certain, society accepts a lower level of confidence. In American criminal courts this lower but acceptable degree of certainty is called “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

If there is evidence from which one can reasonably infer the guy has a gun or a knife—for example, he tells you that he does, or he makes a motion as if for a weapon, or he has a reputation for being armed at all times—that is a valid argument to make in court. The phrase “for all I know,” though, makes the gun or knife hypothetical. Speculative. Imaginary. And no legally valid conclusion can be based on the hypothetical, speculative, or imaginary.

Just as we’ve all heard the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt,” we’ve all also heard the phrase “burden of proof.” But what you may not know is that the burden of proof consists of two distinct facets: the “burden of production” and the “burden of persuasion.”

It is our responsibility to ensure that our use of force stays well within the rules so that we do not appear as vulnerable targets of prosecution. Indeed, this is a key mission of this book: to teach you how to minimize your legal vulnerability as close to zero as possible—to be hard to convict. Not by learning “legal tricks”—we don’t teach legal tricks. Rather by learning where the actual legal boundaries of self-defense really are, enabling you to stay well within those boundaries. Do that, and you’ll be hard to convict, indeed.

To get the ball rolling down the criminal justice pipeline, someone must report a crime. You might have called the police, your attacker or a witness could have called, or (far less common) a police officer could have observed the encounter directly. If it is possible to report it yourself first, especially in a deadly force defensive use-of-force case, that’s generally advisable.

When your investigative report hits the prosecutor’s desk, they’ll have to decide whether there’s enough evidence for a conviction. This is a judgment call that’s essentially entirely within their discretion. Prosecutors are “graded” on their win-loss record, so they won’t usually bother with a losing case.

If prosecutors believe that they don’t have enough evidence to convict, they may still pretend that they do have such evidence a ruse to threaten a trial and get you to agree to a plea bargain or some sort of pre-trial diversion scheme. That’s perfectly lawful.

If prosecutors decide to try you, the prosecutor will file a criminal complaint in the lowest-level court, called the magistrate court. For lower-level offenses such as misdemeanors, the magistrate may deal with the whole matter. Felony offenses begin here but are then brought to the next higher-level court for the actual trial.

Once the magistrate accepts the complaint, you officially graduate from being a “suspect” to a “defendant.” The magistrate will tell you the official charge against you, ask if you understand the charge, and ask for a plea. By now you should definitely have a lawyer, but if you don’t, under no circumstances are you to say anything else but “not guilty.”

The last step before trial is the pretrial period, including pretrial motions. This may all sound preliminary, administrative, and unimportant, but make no mistake. This is where the stage and rules of the trial are set, meaning this is where the legal battlefield is defined.

During this period, your defense team will scour the evidence for weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case, as well as identify evidence and resources like expert witnesses to flesh out the theory of the case they’ll present at trial—presumably, given the context of this book, the legal defenses of self-defense.

Around this time, you’ll really start to appreciate the creativity, expertise, and experience of your lawyer, or deeply regret the lack of the same. Good lawyers are expensive. You might someday regret paying a good lawyer tons of money, but you’ll almost certainly regret paying little for a bad one.

Jury selection is the ultimate wildcard. Trials are tightly controlled affairs, with the judge wielding great power to allow or restrain lawyers on each side. But the jury is something else. They sit there completely silent, listening and thinking, and ultimately deciding your fate. But who are these people? Your peers? Do they share your worldview, your cultural view, and your particular life experiences?

Your lawyer (and the state’s lawyers) will question the jurors in a process called voir dire. They’ll try to identify and exclude people who have already formed an opinion of the case. The theoretical goal is to get a jury of people who can all be fair and impartial, and who will consider only the evidence presented at trial and not “facts” they may have heard from friends, family, or media sources outside the courtroom.

The trial consists of six major components: opening statements, the prosecution’s presentation of the case, the defendant’s presentation of the case, closing arguments, jury instructions, and deliberation.

Both the prosecution and the defense become storytellers, using the evidence as raw material to construct those stories. They are each free to choose or ignore evidence, or interpret a given piece of evidence differently, but they must both draw from the same pool of evidence. Both sides know all the evidence before the trial starts because of what’s called “mandatory mutual discovery.” Unlike courtroom dramas, there is no evidence “ambushes” in real trials.

Regardless of how long it takes, when the defense rests its case, it is time for closing arguments. Each side once again tells their story in closing, this time emphasizing the particular bits and pieces of evidence that strengthen them and undermine their adversary. And once again, the prosecutors get the better slot. While they spoke first in opening statements, they speak last in closing arguments. So the first and last thing the jury hears is the prosecutor’s story. Once closing arguments are done, it is time for jury instruction and deliberation.

After the trial, the defendant may appeal a conviction to an intermediate “appellate” court of usually three judges. Those judges may spend only a few minutes on your case before rejecting the appeal because of the enormous number of cases coming across their desk. If they do accept the appeal, though, the judges will carefully decide how the laws, but not the facts, were applied at trial. They avoid reconsidering facts because they were not at trial to observe the testimony and evidence directly. Instead ,they ensure that the law was applied properly and fairly.

The statutes and jury instructions for these crimes in all 50 states can be found at the Law of Self Defense website:

Murder needs to be distinguished from “homicide,” which is the taking of another human life. Such taking may be legal, such as in lawful self-defense. Only if the taking of life was illegal does it qualify as murder.

Manslaughter comes in two forms: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter happens when you meant to harm someone but didn’t deliberately plan to take their life, or act against them with a “depraved mind.” The classic example is a husband who finds his wife in bed with another man, and kills one or both of them. Involuntary manslaughter happens when you don’t mean to cause harm, but death still occurred because of criminal negligence. Killing someone while drunk driving is a classic example. Involuntary manslaughter is not relevant to self-defense, because self-defense always involves a deliberate decision to act.

Assault is the first of the non-homicide charges. You commit assault when you put someone in fear of immediate physical harm. The type of threat determines whether it is simple assault—you put someone in fear of your bare hands—or aggravated assault—you put someone in fear of your handgun. Simple assault carries a sentence of a few months or a few years in jail, but aggravated assault can be very serious with sentences as great as 15 years.

Battery is the unwanted and deliberate touching of another person. As with assault, it can be either simple battery—you hit somebody with non-deadly force—or aggravated battery—you hit them with deadly force. The prospective punishments are the same as for assault: a few months or years in jail for simple battery, and up to 15 years for aggravated battery.

Assault and battery may stand alone, or may be combined, depending on the circumstances. If you wave your fist in someone’s face but do not touch him or her, you committed assault but not battery.

When you show a dangerous weapon in a rude, angry, or threatening way, you have committed brandishing. This charge can be expected when you pull your gun in self-defense, even if you don’t use it. Given the court’s increasing tendency to describe pepper spray and Tasers as dangerous weapons, though, showing them might also be characterized as brandishing.

Disorderly conduct is a “catch-all” charge for a wide variety of annoying behavior. Formally, conduct is disorderly if it causes an inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm. Expect this charge if you were publicly fighting, using grossly abusive language against someone (the ‘N’ word, for instance), getting in the way of someone’s walking, insulting someone, or taunting them. Disorderly conduct typically results in a fine on the order of several hundred dollars and a month or two in jail.

Self-defense is the opposite of an accident. You do not intend an accident to happen. Self-defense is deliberate and intentional. You perceived a threat, and you purposely threatened or used force against that threat. Self-defense and accident, then, are logically inconsistent. If your conduct was one, it cannot be the other. I mention this because you must be careful not to confuse a self-defense narrative by saying the gun “just went off” or “I didn’t mean for it to happen” or even explicitly “it was an accident,” when really your use of force was genuine self-defense. If you claim your use of force was an accident, or use words that can be interpreted as meaning it was an accident, you can seriously undermine your case. Indeed, you could eliminate any hope of meeting your burden of production in the first place. So, if you acted in self-defense, make sure you don’t contradict yourself.

The five essential elements of a self-defense claim: Innocence, Imminence, Proportionality, Avoidance, and Reasonableness. All required elements must be present, or a claim of self-defense fails.

There is also a legal defense of accident, and a genuine accident should carry no legal liability. In the context of firearms, however, the legal defense of accident is a difficult one. Guns are inherently dangerous instruments, and the legal standard of care is very high. Unintentional injuries or deaths involving guns are almost always the result of negligence, and in the context of a firearm, that usually constitutes criminal negligence.

You lose Innocence if the prosecution can successfully argue that it was you who was the initial aggressor or provoked the fight. In other words, don’t start, forcibly sustain, or escalate a fight.

In a few states, aggressive words alone may be sufficient to qualify as provocation and can cost you the element of Innocence—so saying anything threatening risks your claim of self-defense.

For most states, threatening words alone are not enough to cost you your self-defense claim. Those words in combination with even the slightest physical aggression, however, could lose you the element of Innocence. The courts call this required physical conduct an overt act.

Not all words are the same; and words combined with conduct can be extremely provocative. Threats to kill, moreover, invite response or even interference, including from those with a sense of chivalry, and even from those of a mind to go further and punish the provocateur.”

If there are no provocative words uttered, so we’re limiting our considerations solely to actions, then it’s the first person to use or threaten physical force who is the initial aggressor in the fight.

Please don’t sustain or “re-kindle” a fight. Even if the other person started the first round, if the fight ends but you start in again, you will be blamed for starting a second conflict. You will have become the aggressor in a second fight, and lost self-defense for that second fight. One of the most common ways people lose the element of Innocence is when a “defender” pursues an attacker or leaves and then comes back to the confrontation.

Mutual combat is another common way to lose the element of Innocence. In mutual combat, the parties agree, either explicitly or implicitly, to engage in a physical confrontation. The classic example is the “let’s take this outside and settle it like men” scenario. When these men subsequently take it outside and engage in mutual combat, both are seen as initial aggressors and neither behaved legally. Genuine self-defense only happens when one party starts the fight against the wishes of the other.

Escalation occurs when someone in the fight escalates what was a non-deadly force fight into a deadly force fight. There are two ways that escalation can affect the element of Innocence. The first is if it is you who escalates the fight. This can cause you to lose the element of Innocence and therefore lose self-defense. The second is if the other guy escalates the fight. This can cause you to regain your Innocence if you’ve somehow managed to lose it.

If your attacker open-hand slaps you, but you respond with your gun, the law sees two separate and distinct conflicts. The first conflict is considered non-deadly and the other guy was to blame for it (i.e. he was the aggressor). The second is a deadly force fight, and you were the aggressor in that fight.

Let’s pretend that even though his slaps weren’t deadly, you drew your gun anyway. The law permits him to now draw his own gun and shoot you in self-defense, even though he “started the whole thing.” Why? Because, in the eyes of the law, there were two fights. He started a non-deadly fight, but you started a deadly fight. In this circumstance, he can still be convicted for the slap that started the first non-deadly fight, but not for your death—you’re responsible for that deadly force fight.

Some jurisdictions distinguish between an initial aggressor in a fight and a provoker of a fight.

In those states that draw this distinction, a provoker is someone who provokes the other person to be the first to act, with the intent of using that other person’s force as an excuse to justify their own response.

Legitimate self-defense is available only if you are an innocent party to the confrontation. If you initiate or sustain a confrontation, your actions cannot be justified as self-defense. You may accurately see yourself as someone unlikely to start, continue, or escalate a confrontation. Even so, fights often begin at the low end of the force continuum and escalate. Actions or language on your part that initially seemed innocuous may later be portrayed as provoking the confrontation. Also, there may be few if any witnesses to the encounter, or the witnesses may be hostile to you.

A great tool to evaluate imminence in real-time is called the AOJ Triad. It’s also good for explaining to others what happened in a way that clearly shows imminence. I first learned of the AOJ Triad as a student in Massad Ayoob’s LFI-1 course (now MAG-40) way back in 1996, and have yet to find something better suited to the purpose. The AOJ stands for ability, opportunity, and jeopardy. Let’s take a look at each of those in turn.

Tueller learned that most officers could draw a service pistol from a holster and engage a threat with center-mass hits within 1.5 seconds. So the question then becomes, how much distance can a bad guy cross in 1.5 seconds? Timing a great many students running from a standing start, Tueller learned that someone could cross about 21 feet at speed in about 1.5 seconds. So, 21 feet became the “Tueller distance,” or the maximum distance from a police officer a person can be and still be capable of striking the officer before the officer can present their pistol and shoot them in self-defense.

The Tueller Drill is often referred to as the “21 foot rule,” or the “7 yard rule.” This really obscures the real take-home message of the Tueller Drill. The value is not some particular distance. What matters is your “Tueller distance.” People’s draw speeds vary. Your Tueller distance will be greater or less than 21 feet depending on your ability to get you gun unholstered and pointed center-mass.

If you shoot someone 15 feet away, a prosecutor might well try to convince the jury that 15 feet is too far for the person you shot to have had the opportunity to use the knife against you, and therefore too far for them to have been an imminent threat. Because they were not yet an imminent threat, the prosecutor will argue, the jury should deny your claim of self-defense. If you know the Tueller Drill, however, you know that 15 feet is more than close enough for an attacker with an impact weapon to have the opportunity to bring that weapon to bear. And because you know the Tueller Drill, and you used that knowledge to make decisions in that critical moment, you have the opportunity to tell the jury about the Tueller Drill.

Displaying a gun in order to make another person fear death or grave bodily harm constitutes aggravated assault with a firearm, and can result in 10 or 20 years in prison. Yet that’s exactly what we are doing when we display our gun defensively. We make an attacker fear what we can do to them with the handgun in an effort to deter an expected attack.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know for certain which defensive displays will meet with official approval and which will not. After all, the justice system is a creature with humans making the decisions, and those humans have their own interests that may or may not line up with your best interests. There’s always going to be at least some risk of prosecution for a defensive display. As a result, no defensive display should even be considered if there exists any safe alternative.

Obviously, you don’t just want to sit there and “take it,” even if the threat is “merely” non-deadly. You want to protect yourself. You have the right not to be harmed, even slightly. The answer is pretty simple: have an effective non-deadly means of self-defense in addition to your deadly means of self-defense.

Jeopardy exists when a person with ability and opportunity conducts themselves in such a way that it reasonably appears they intend to use them against an innocent person (e.g., you). A classic example of ability and opportunity but not jeopardy is an armed security guard at a bank. While you’re waiting for a teller, the bank guard is only feet away, carrying a loaded sidearm. Clearly, he’s able to hurt you. Just as clearly, there’s an opportunity for him to do so. But absent the third element of reasonably apparent jeopardy, you can’t shoot him because absent jeopardy he’s not an imminent threat.

Jeopardy doesn’t have to be announced. The guy doesn’t have to say, “Give me all your money, or I’ll kill you!” It also covers implicit threats, like someone following you through a dark parking garage with a knife held up menacingly.

Here’s a good example. You see a menacing person approaching on your side of the street, so you cross to the other side to avoid them. He crosses too and continues to close. That’s a fact—evidence!—that you share with police later to corroborate the reasonableness of your fear. Similarly, in a parking garage you can put a vehicle between you and the person. If they follow you around it, that’s a good indication you’re in jeopardy. Another great way is to shout at them. “Stay back!,” “Don’t come closer!,” “You’re scaring me!,” “Stop following me!,” “Don’t make me defend myself!,” “What do you want?!,” or even simply “Help! Police!” If they still go after you after all that, there’s no question that they represent jeopardy.

“It is the imminence of harm to another that is central to the legal justification of violence to prevent it; otherwise, this humane law of justification could be extended to countenance retribution or vigilantism.”

An imminent threat is one about to happen right now. Force used too soon or too late is not lawful. A threat of future harm is not an imminent threat against which defensive force can be used. Using force against another after the threat has passed is retaliation, not self-defense.

The best solution for a non-deadly threat is displaying and/or using non-deadly, defensive force.

The element of Proportionality is like weight classes in wrestling. It wouldn’t be a fair fight to ask a 100-pound person to go up against someone who weighs 200 pounds. For self-defense purposes, you can’t pull your “200-pound” gun against a “100-pound” slap. Unlike wrestling, though, there are only two self-defense law “weight classes”: deadly force and non-deadly force.

The force you use cannot be disproportionally greater than the force threatened your attacker uses. So, if your attacker is threatening or using only non-deadly force, your response must be limited to non-deadly force.

A deadly force response to a non-deadly force threat is a disproportional response. It loses you the element of Proportionality, and therefore loses you the legal justification of self-defense.

Legally speaking, deadly force is any force that can cause death or serious bodily injury. Serious bodily injury includes permanent disfigurement, long-term damage to a part of the body (such as a broken bone), rape, and even kidnapping.

One night George Zimmerman, the head of his Neighborhood Watch program, observed Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old football player, walk aimlessly through his neighborhood in the rain. Martin fit the description of burglars that had recently plagued the neighborhood. Zimmerman phoned the police and reported the suspicious activity. Martin, noticing Zimmerman observing him, fled from sight around a corner. Zimmerman told the police dispatcher that Martin had run, and the dispatcher asked Zimmerman where Martin was going.

Because Martin ran, Zimmerman followed him to try to regain sight of him, all while still on the phone with the dispatcher. When the dispatcher realized what Zimmerman was doing, he told Zimmerman that he didn’t need him to do that. Zimmerman responded, “OK,” asked for police response, arranged for a meeting, and hung up. Moments later Martin emerged from the shadows, verbally challenged Zimmerman, knocked him to the ground with a single punch, mounted him, and viciously beat him. Martin smashed Zimmerman’s head against the sidewalk in what was described by an eyewitness as an “MMA-style pound-and-ground.”

When Zimmerman screamed for help, to no avail, Martin put his hands over Zimmerman’s mouth and nose, cutting off his breathing. In the struggle Zimmerman’s jacket fell open, revealing his licensed pistol. Martin’s hands moved to the side of Zimmerman’s body near his gun, and Martin told Zimmerman that he was going to die. Unable to escape, believing that Martin was trying to take his firearm and fearing unconsciousness and death, Zimmerman drew and fired a single, fatal shot into Martin’s heart.

If Zimmerman had shot Martin while they were upright and fighting with fists, he would have violated proportionality. But after Martin knocked him to the ground, straddled his body, and beat him to near unconsciousness, Martin’s barehanded attack transformed into deadly force. Zimmerman’s gun became proportionate to the deadly force against him and was therefore lawful.

Despite his open-and-shut case, Zimmerman was enmeshed in a battle that played itself out as much in the limelight as in the courtroom. Prosecutors, politicians, media personalities, and lawyers behaved both unethically and illegally as they worked to condemn him for life to further their self-interests. Luckily, Zimmerman had world-class legal representation in the defense team of Mark O’Mara and Don West, who executed a flawless defense. Zimmerman was also lucky to have had a fair jury that wanted true justice. They acquitted him after only a few hours of deliberations. Unfortunately, despite now being free, his life is forever changed and continues to be in danger of vigilante “justice.”

Police are trained to respond to an altercation with a variety of tools and strategies that range from harmless to deadly. Together these tools and strategies form what is called the “continuum of force.” This continuum typically begins with physical presence, then verbal commands, and escalates all the way to lethal force. A police officer escalates or de-escalates along this continuum, as the situation requires. Private citizens should do the same thing.

Carrying a gun without also carrying something less forceful is a lot like having a jackhammer as your only tool.

According to the Department of Justice, we are five times more likely to face a simple assault or battery (a non-deadly force threat) than we are an aggravated assault or battery (a deadly force threat). And this statistic is conservative. The number is probably far greater because many simple assaults are never reported to the police.

While it is important to ensure your safety, and I wouldn’t hesitate to continue shooting until my deadly force attacker was no longer an imminent deadly threat, the more bullet holes you put in your attacker the more likely it will be seen as a duration-of-force problem. No one looks at a body with 30 bullet holes or 45 knife slashes and says, “Classic case of self-defense.”

What if during the non-deadly portion of the attack, you suffered an injury that prevented retreat? What would have been a safe avenue when you were still healthy is no longer safe now that you are injured. You are now under no duty to try to make the attempt because safe retreat is no longer possible.

But what if you retreat as required and your attacker pursues you? Is it enough that you’ve retreated once? Have you now “checked that box?” Unfortunately, no. You must continue to fall back until it isn’t safely possible to do so any longer—to “retreat to the wall.” Only once your safe path out ends or becomes unsafe has your duty to retreat been satisfied.

Every state with a duty to retreat has at least one exception to that duty: You do not have to retreat when you are in your home. This principle is called the Castle Doctrine.

In practical application, Avoidance refers to a legal duty to take advantage of a safe avenue of retreat before resorting to the use of force against an attacker.

The criminal justice system, seeking to be practical, applies a two-part test to see if a defendant acted reasonably. The first test is called “objective reasonableness” and the second, “subjective reasonableness.”

I recommend you document your self-defense training. Underline or circle the passage on the Tueller drill in this book and put the date in the margin. Hold on to the dated receipt of your purchase. Now you possess solid documentation to prove you knew the Tueller Drill.

When I took Massad Ayoob’s Lethal Force Institute, Level I class about 20 years ago, all of us in the class took extensive notes. (That class is still taught today, as MAG-40.) Mas suggested that we make a copy of those notes, keep the copy in an accessible place as a reference, and place the originals in a sealed envelope, and mail them to ourselves, receipt required upon delivery. If necessary, that USPS-dated envelope can be unsealed in court later to prove what we had learned as of that date—presumably a date earlier than the later use-of-force event.

Where objective reasonableness decides whether you did what Reasonable Ralph would have done, subjective reasonableness looks at whether you had a genuine, good faith belief that what you were doing was reasonable.

Please don’t ever flee the scene, hide from the police, or destroy evidence. If you do, the judge may tell the jury to consider such conduct as evidence that you possessed a consciousness of guilt, and give the jury a consciousness of guilt jury instruction.

Reasonable mistakes do not doom your claim of self-defense. If you reasonably think your attacker’s fake gun was real, you are allowed to treat it as if it were real. We are not required to make perfect decisions in self-defense, we are merely required to make reasonable decisions in self-defense.

It should go without saying that something that increases your likelihood of jail and doesn’t help your survival is a bad idea. For example: If you inscribe “Thug Killer” on your pistol’s slide, will that turn a clean self-defense shoot into a murder conviction? Maybe not. But could it turn a marginal self-defense shoot into manslaughter? Quite possibly.

To quote the excellent Rory Miller from his book Facing Violence:

“It is better to avoid than to run, better to run than to de-escalate, better to de-escalate than to fight, better to fight than to die.”

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Corinthians 13:11, NKJV

Of course, anyone with a car must, from time to time, go to a gas station. It’s unavoidable. While you’re there, however, be aware that you’re at a watering hole. You have enough distractions just gassing up; don’t add more by checking your smartphone for emails. Keep your eyes up and look around. Don’t allow yourself to be surprised.

Where else are there environmental dangers? John Farnham’s oft-repeated warning “the three don’ts” nicely summarizes how to avoid the vast majority of bad situations: Don’t do stupid things. Don’t go to stupid places. Don’t hang out with stupid people.

Also, maintain your skills. If all you do is read this book once, then shelve it, and don’t make any effort to keep the information fresh in your mind, then you won’t be able to make effective use of this critical knowledge under stress when you most need it.

The key to minimizing your legal liability to indictment, prosecution, conviction, or lawsuit is to understand how your use-of-force will be judged.