We get this question in our Free Concealed Carry classes on a pretty regular basis, and it’s worth discussing.
What happens if you end up in a self defense shooting but you were carrying the gun illegally?
Before you jump to conclusions on ‘illegally carrying’, the most common way people end up carrying illegally is carrying in a ‘gun free zone’, often unaware that carry is prohibited in that area. Colorado has just made this circumstance much more likely by removing some important state law that prevented local jurisdictions from enacting local ordinances about where concealed carry can be prohibited. With 336 local jurisdictions, it becomes impossible for everyone to keep track of all the prohibited places.
What we’re going to discuss here is a guiding legal principle. I won’t promise that it is true in every circumstance because I’m not an attorney and honestly I’m not well enough informed to be fully aware of possible exceptions to this principle. I’m not qualified to give legal advice and you should always consult an attorney about specific legal circumstances.
Coffee was acquitted by a jury on 5 counts including attempted murder of a police officer. The jury agreed with the Defense’s argument that Coffee was reasonably acting in self defense. However Coffee was also a convicted felon and possessed his firearm illegally.
The fundamental question in these circumstances is whether or not you surrender you’re right to self defense by being in possession of an illegal item. The short answer is, no, you do not surrender your natural right to self defense just by possessing a gun in an illegal area, or even possessing an illegal item. This is better illustrated with a couple of examples.
in 2017, Andrew Coffee was involved in a shootout with a Florida SWAT team. The shootout resulted in the death of Coffee’s girlfriend, Alteria Woods. Woods was killed by police in the raid and Coffee was charged with felony murder for causing her death. I won’t rehash the details of the case, you can read a synopsis HERE. Coffee was acquitted by a jury on 5 counts including attempted murder of a police officer. The jury agreed with the Defense’s argument that Coffee was reasonably acting in self defense. However Coffee was also a convicted felon and possessed his firearm illegally. The jury convicted Coffee of the possession charge, and Coffee was eventually sentenced to 10 years.
A more recent case is even more stark. in June of this year, William Thompson was arrested after being involved in a shootout with a group of teens who had assaulted his 9 year old daughter. The attack on his daughter led to a fight which escalated to a shooting. Thompson was armed with a ‘ghost gun’ (a non serialized homemade gun) equipped with a switch that converted the handgun to full auto. A grand jury announced today a no bill (no charges) against Thompson for his act of shooting at his attackers in defense of himself and his daughter. But Thompson is not off the hook for the illegal machine gun. He is still facing a federal felony charge which carries a possible 10 year sentence.
This principle could also apply to carrying a gun while under the influence. The difference with being under the influence is that the prosecution will likely try to use your inhibited state against you, questioning your judgement in the moment.
These kinds of legal questions are good reasons why it’s important to expand your legal education about self defense law beyond just taking a concealed carry class.
Even if you’ve already taken the state mandated classes, you will benefit from more FREE education and training.
Guns For Everyone is now offering multiple versions of our Free Concealed Carry classes that focus on specific topics, such as the legal implications of deadly force. Even if you’ve already taken the state mandated classes, you will benefit from more FREE education and training. You can find our complete class calendar HERE. Continue your training and education, your life and your freedom may very well depend on it.