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Returning to the 2nd edition of The Law of Self Defense finds us at the second chapter about the role of imminence in showing that use of force in self defense is necessary. Here justifiable self defense can go astray if force is applied preemptively or retributively. Next described is the need to apply force proportional to the threat, and the ordeals of the late Harold Fish and more recently, George Zimmerman, illustrate appropriate defenses against various degrees of force.

The chapter on threat avoidance and retreat addresses the myriad misunderstandings of the now-maligned “Stand Your Ground” laws. Branca explains that even absent a SYG statute, retreat is required only if it does not entail greater danger. The Castle Doctrine and the constraints on its application, is likewise analyzed. The home, outbuildings, vehicles, places of business and other locations are studied from the law’s requirement to withdraw when possible from conflict.

Qualifications on SYG and Castle Doctrine laws reflect society’s unwillingness to grant cart blanche to use of deadly force when other options may resolve the danger. Branca outlines the concept of applying a reasonable defensive response and what is both subjectively and objectively reasonable in the next chapter, presented as his fifth principle of self-defense law. Onto this principle, the effect of prior knowledge or training is overlain, as is physical capacity and other characteristics. Even your reputation in the community and prior knowledge of your assailant’s reputation influence whether your actions are reasonable, writes Branca, explaining the limited instances when past bad acts may be allowed to show your assailant was known to be violent.

While Branca’s principles comprise the foundation of justifiable self defense, additional concerns addressed include making defensible decisions about using deadly force to protect another person and the limited allowances for defense of property.

The Law of Self Defense closes with a review of post-incident mistakes that infer you are acting out of guilt for having committed a crime. Fleeing the scene, lying about the incident or not reporting it to police leads Branca’s warning list. Of course, tampering with evidence or coercing a witness also portrays a guilty conscience—whether done in ignorance or out of guilt. Alternatively, an innocent person’s behavior has recognizable hallmarks, Branca continues, emphasizing the need to behave to high standards. He adds a short discussion about how to introduce into testimony an assailant’s generally violent history to underscore a capacity for violence, despite the prohibition on citing prior bad acts as evidence.

After reading 200 pages of law, illustrative cases, and sentencing applied when things went wrong, the reader is surely ready to accept advice on how to avoid falling into the gears of the criminal justice system. Here, Branca offers simple, practical advice on avoiding all of it. Some say that when carrying a gun, they need not take “guff” off anyone, he writes. Instead, he stresses, you have to let it all go when you are carrying a gun, since the price of using force when a verbal exchange turns into a brawl is so very high. He closes with the observation that in addition to complying with the law, anyone who uses force in self defense has to ask if the harm stopped by their use of force was worth it. Before ever being drawn into self defense, ponder long and hard about what is worth defending, he concludes.

Sometimes the last page of a book is the end of the learning experience. Not so when the information is coming from Andrew Branca. In addition to updates and state-specific addenda on his website, Branca teaches seminars on this topic, and a little browsing shows that several of those on his schedule are hosted by firearms instructors who are also Network affiliates. Isn’t it nice to see all our associates working together this way? See for full information.

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