Most people who own a gun in Michigan either purchase it for hunting, or protecting their property and family. It can be a comforting feeling to know you have a way to defend yourself if necessary, however many don’t realize the legal ramifications of shooting or killing someone who they believed was threatening their life or invading their property.
In June of 2016 a Jackson County man was charged with two counts of second-degree murder after he shot two teens who were on his property and attempting to break into his vehicles. Is this self-defense? Tracy Lawrence reportedly shot at the boys as they were fleeing, which under Michigan law is unlawful. In order to use a self-defense claim, a person has to have reasonable fear that his or her life is in imminent danger, or that great bodily harm will occur.
A similar incident occurred in Minnesota when a 65-year-old man shot at a vehicle in which three teens who were “casing” his home for a future burglary were attempting to flee after the man came to the window and startled the teens. The man claims he was shooting at the front tire in an effort to stop the teens, however a bullet struck the driver and killed him. He now stands charged with reckless discharge of a firearm and second-degree manslaughter.
What are the laws in Michigan that dictate when it is okay to use a gun in self defense? There are limits to when it is lawful to use any type of deadly force, including a gun.
In 2006 Michigan statute 780.972 was modified, and now makes it legal to use deadly force if an individual “honestly and reasonably believes the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm to him- or herself or to another individual.” Statute 780.951 makes the use of deadly force against someone who is trying to remove a person from an occupied vehicle or who is attempting to break into a residence or business, or who has already broken in to a home/business legal. Deadly force is also a defense in the event a potential victim is trying to prevent a sexual assault.
In both of the scenarios above, the teens who were shot at were attempting to flee. Many people are under the impression they can use deadly force such as a gun to protect their property, even when outside and the perpetrators are retreating. This is not the case, and in doing so those who believe they are defending themselves may be arrested and charged with manslaughter, murder, or other serious criminal offenses. It’s vital to know when it is legal to use a gun in self-defense; unfortunately, most people do not know the laws regarding the use of a firearm, and often find themselves facing criminal charges.
To put it simply, different laws apply when a suspected attacker or thief is outside, and not actually inside a home or business or in the act of breaking in. When a suspect is fleeing the scene, is it reasonable to fear for your life? You can be sure prosecutors won’t think so and will work aggressively to secure a conviction.
Many police officers are of the opinion that people who own guns for the purpose of self defense are trying to take the law into their own hands. Ultimately, if you own a gun for the purpose of protecting your family or property, it is critical to understand Michigan’s gun laws and when it is or is not legal to use a gun or deadly force.
What is your opinion on guns and self defense?