Is Killing an Active Shooter Legally Justified?

concealed carry

With all the shootings of late and the potential for gun violence, would killing an active shooter get an average citizen into trouble with the law?

by C J Oakes, December 1, 2016.

Just this morning, a hostage situation took place at Community First Credit Union in Jacksonville, Florida. Initial reports indicated that shots were fired within the bank, but this turned out to be incorrect. Authorities state the situation is contained.

This comes on the heels of the Ohio State University incident which left 11 wounded and the attacker dead just a few days ago. In that situation, the attacker wielded a knife.

More Concealed Carry Permits Mean More Guns in the Hands of the Good Guys

Without a doubt, there are nut-jobs out there ready to kill because someone pissed in their Cheerios one morning. In fact, gun sales in America reached an all-time record on Black Friday, adding 185,713 new registered gun owners.

Whatever the reasons, this means that anyone with the will to inflict harm on others should think twice. Why?

Flatly, although more guns means more guns in the hands of the bad guys, they also mean more guns in the hands of the good guys. One never knows when the guy (or gal) in line beside you at the C-Store may be packing. Every state has some form of concealed carry law, though some are more restrictive than others. This means that literally anyone we come across anywhere in America could be packing.

Shooting an Active Shooter. Justifiable Homicide?

Simple common sense would tell a person with a concealed weapon that if some nut opens fire in a shopping mall, shooting and even killing that nut would be justifiable homicide…that the action would be within the limits of the law. Right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

English: Current Status of Shall Issue Laws in...
English: Current Status of Shall Issue Laws in America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much depends on where the shooting takes place.

At one time, a claim of self-defense would suffice to prevent a District Attorney from pursuing charges in such a situation. However, some of the prosecutorial discretion has been removed via legislators. Thus, America now has three concepts in place nationwide and depending on the state, a person may or may not face criminal charges for ending a shooting rampage. These legal concepts are:

  1. Castle Doctrine
  2. Stand Your Ground
  3. Duty to Retreat

Castle Doctrine and Justified Homicide

In most states, the time-honored ‘Castle Doctrine’ is justification enough for a DA. In most cases, shooting an intruder in home, office, or other real property owned is justified. In a few, a car is counted an extension of the home and falls under Castle Doctrine laws.

Stand Your Ground and Active Shooters

Stand your Ground is different. If in a public place and an active shooter engages targets, you or otherwise, you would be justified in using your concealed weapon (assuming you do have a permit to carry). However, it would be wise to know the law for your state before such an engagement.

In most cases, when obtaining the Concealed Carry permit, a class must be taken in which these laws are clarified. Still, for those who are unsure about the law in their state, here are the 23 states which have stand your ground laws. Click on your state in this list to be taken to the appropriate law.

History of handgun carry permit laws, 1986-pre...
History of handgun carry permit laws, 1986-present. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  1. Alabama
  2. Alaska
  3. Arizona
  4. Florida
  5. Georgia
  6. Indiana
  7. Kansas
  8. Kentucky
  9. Louisiana
  10. Michigan
  11. Mississippi
  12. Montana
  13. Nevada
  14. New Hampshire
  15. North Carolina
  16. Oklahoma
  17. Pennsylvania
  18. South Carolina
  19. South Dakota
  20. Tennessee
  21. Texas
  22. Utah
  23. West Virginia

Duty to Retreat…In Other Words, Run

Even if you have a concealed carry permit in 18 states and an active shooter is engaging targets, you must retreat if able. In other words, only if you cannot safely run from the area can you choose to fire. However, to be certain of no charges, it would be best to shoot to wound if possible. In the following 18 states, Duty to Retreat is the law and taking any other action can result in prosecution.

  1. Arkansas

    Map of USA states as regards their status for ...
    Map of USA states as regards their status for Concealed firearm carry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  2. Connecticut
  3. Delaware
  4. Hawaii
  5. Iowa
  6. Maine
  7. Maryland
  8. Massachusetts
  9. Missouri
  10. Minnesota
  11. Nebraska
  12. New Jersey
  13. New York
  14. North Dakota
  15. Ohio
  16. Rhode Island
  17. Wisconsin
  18. Wyoming

What are the Odds of Charges in an Active Shooter Situation?

Of course, the odds of being charged with a homicide resulting from an Active Shooter situation may be small. It all depends on the situation. If trapped with others and plenty of witnesses will testify that their lives were saved by your heroic efforts, odds are there will be no charges.

But facts being what they are, some District Attorney’s may still bring charges. The best way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to get shot at. So, if in the course of running away the shooter turns in your direction, let ’em have it. Otherwise, write your legislature and get them to change the laws in your state or move to one which recognizes Stand Your Ground.


President, Publisher at Oakes Media Group
C J Oakes is an author and freelance writer from Lubbock, TX, USA. In addition to this website, he operates and

As an author, he has numerous books to his credit including the best-selling Survive and Thrive After the Collapse of the Dollar series. In addition, he has written over a hundred books for clients since 2011 and has created innumerable web pages for law firms and others worldwide.

Passionate about Justice, Mr. Oakes believes that the scales of justice are never balanced, but it is the duty of each citizen to do their part to re-calibrate the scales as needed. When the scales of justice shift too far to one side, they must be returned a near as possible to center.

He built this site with the goal of helping students of criminal justice understand how to apply the principles needed for re-calibrating the scales as well as providing easy access to needed study resources.

Criminal Justice Law International welcomes guest posts and anyone interested in contributing to the goals of the site.

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