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You can use a gun in self-defense, but know how and when to use it

Indiana law allows use of deadly force in protecting your home, but there are guidelines.

Posted on Oct. 8, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

Indiana law allows you to shoot and kill an intruder in your house.

There are guidelines and limitations, though, and protecting your home with a gun isn’t just a matter of going out, buying a weapon and stashing it. Experts recommend proper training and, perhaps just as significantly, you have to be prepared to use the weapon and know when you shouldn’t.

For instance, you hear a sound downstairs, grab your gun and descend, coming across an intruder. You won’t necessarily have much time to deliberate. “At that point, you’ve got to make a split-second decision on what you’re going to do,” said Tom Shoff, who runs an Elkhart company that installs home and commercial security systems.

Moreover, you have to distinguish between moments when you are directly threatened and when the threat has passed, when a burgler turns around and starts fleeing, for instance. “If you’ve ended the threat, you’d want to disengage at that point,” said Brad Rupert, general manager of Midwest Gun and Range in Elkhart and Midwest Gun Exchange and Range in Mishawaka.

It’s not an issue to take lightly. But with a rash of high-profile home invasions and other crimes of late in Elkhart County, security at home is an increasingly germane issue.

Shoff, also a reserve officer in the Elkhart Police Department, thinks there’s been an uptick in home break-ins of late, all over Elkhart County. Certainly he’s staying busy trying to meet demand for security systems.

“This past year has been the busiest year I’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

With the Great Recession, Rupert, for his part, has seen an increase in purchases of guns for personal safety, notably among women and families.

NO ‘DUTY TO RETREAT’

Indiana’s stand-your-ground law, outlined in Indiana Code 35-41-3-2, states that a homeowner “does not have a duty to retreat.” He or she may use “deadly force” if the action “is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury” or the commission “of a forcible felony,” that is, a felony involving a physical threat.

Deadly force may also be used to stop “unlawful entry of or attack on the person’s dwelling.”

The law goes on to state that force may not be used if the culprit “is escaping after the commission of a crime.”

“Depending on the situation, the amount of force used can range from basic self-defense ... to that of deadly force, which would include protecting one’s self or someone else from an attack that could cause them serious bodily injury or death,” said Capt. Jim Bradberry of the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department in an e-mail.

Bradberry, Shoff and Rupert agree that if you’re going to get a weapon, training to use it is vital. Moreover, it’s important to have a safe place to store a gun, particularly if kids live in the home.

That said, not all confrontations will necessarily end in shots fired. If a homeowner shows a burglar that he or she has a weapon, that may cause them to turn and flee. Such instances, Rupert suspects, “go extremely underreported.”

‘WHY DID YOU CHASE THEM?’

Despite Indiana’s law, use of weapons for self-defense can still potentially lead to legal issues for homeowners, according to James Hendricks, chairman of Ball State University’s department of criminal justice and criminology. Using weapons in self-defense might seem logical and fair, but can still lead to civil or criminal action against a property owner and necessitate the hiring an attorney.

Ultimately, the key factor in such cases involves whether the homeowner can show they were in “mortal fear of life and limb,” he said. “If somebody comes into your house and they’re running away from you, the judge is going to say, ‘You were not in mortal fear of life and limb. Why did you chase them?’”




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