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Lawful Use of Firearms in Self-Defense

Lawful Use of Force in Self Defense

Washington law allows for the use of force under certain circumstances. RCW 9A.16.020 outlines the circumstances under which a person can legally use force. The lawful use of force/self-defense most commonly arises under three situations:

  • Self Defense
  • Defense of Others
  • Defense of Property

Washington's Self-Defense statute specifically states:

No person in the state shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting by any reasonable means necessary, himself or herself, his or her family, or his or her real or personal property, or for coming to the aid of another who is in imminent danger of or the victim of assault, robbery, kidnapping, arson, burglary, rape, murder, or any other violent crime as defined in RCW 9.94A.030.   

See RCW 9A.16.110.

Use of “non-deadly force” is legally authorized when:

Whenever used by a party about to be injured, or by another lawfully aiding him or her, in preventing or attempting to prevent an offense against his or her person, or a malicious trespass, or other malicious interference with real or personal property lawfully in his or her possession, in case the force is not more than is necessary

See RCW 9A.16.020(3). 

Self Defense in General

Washington Law allows a person to use reasonable force to defend themselves when they are being attacked or have a reasonable belief that they are about to be attacked.  A person may not use more force than is necessary given the situation. The law does not impose a duty to retreat.  This means that if you are in your home, you do not have to try to escape the situation before defending yourself.  This is otherwise called, the “Stand Your Ground Rule" in Washington. On the other hand, you cannot raise self-defense if you are not allowed to be in the place you are being attacked in the first place.  You do not have to actually be attacked or injured in order to defend yourself.  Washington law allows you to defend yourself if you reasonably believe you are about to be injured.

Self-defense is commonly used as a defense to assault, malicious mischief, harassment or disorderly conduct.  But more serious felonies can give rise to a claim of self-defense as well. 

Defense of Others

Washington Law states that the use of force is lawful whenever used to prevent an offense against another person.  This means that under certain circumstances, you may use force to protect another person.  Like self-defense, defense of other requires that you only use a reasonable amount of force to protect another person.  Also like in self-defense, the person you are protecting must not be trespassing at the time of the incident.

Defense of Property

Under certain situations, a person may use force to defend against a “malicious trespass or interference" with real or personal property.  This means that if someone is entering your home or taking or damaging your property and they are doing so with an evil purpose, you can defend your property by force.  The same rules apply to this defense, which is that you may not use more force than is necessary to defend your property.

Stand Your Ground.

stand-your-ground law (sometimes called "no duty to retreat" law) is a legal justification where an individual can "stand their ground" and use force without retreating, in order to protect and defend themselves or others against threats or perceived threats.  Stand your ground allows an individual, who is lawfully permitted to be where they are, to use any force necessary to defend from an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death.  There is no duty to retreat. 

Washington courts have consistently upheld our right to remain in a lawful location with “no duty to retreat.”  Flight, however reasonable as an alternative to violence, is not required. While the wisdom of such a policy may be open to debate, the policy is one of long standing and reflects the notion that one lawfully where he is entitled to be should not be made to yield and flee by a show of unlawful force against him.  See State v. Williams, 81 Wn.App. 738 (1996).  

Click here for more information on "Stand Your Ground Laws."

The Castle Doctrine.

The castle doctrine, also known as a castle law or a defense of habitation law, is a legal doctrine that designates a person's abode or any legally occupied place (for example, a vehicle or home) as a place in which that person has protections and immunities permitting them, in certain circumstances, to use force to defense against an intruder, free of legal liability.  This can include, in some circumstances, deadly force.  The term is commonly used throughout the United States to describe a “no duty to retreat” from a home, abode or car.  

If a person has a duty to retreat to avoid violence, they must do so. But the Castle doctrines negates that duty to retreat when that individual is assaulted in a place where he/she has a right to be, such as within one's own home. Deadly force may be justified and a defense of justifiable homicide applicable, in cases "when the actor reasonably fears, imminent peril of death or serious bodily harm to him or herself or another".

Click here to learn more about Washington's Castle Doctrine.

The Legal Standard for Self-Defense.

Washington case law has further defined the scenarios in which “force” may be used in self-defense.  Remember, this is the standard for non-deadly force.  For the lawful use of Deadly Force, please see the section below.  

To be entitled to jury instruction on self-defense, the defendant must produce some evidence demonstrating self-defense; however, once defendant produces some evidence, burden shifts to prosecution to prove absence of self-defense beyond reasonable doubt.  Evidence of self-defense must be assessed from the standpoint of the reasonably prudent person, knowing all the defendant knows and seeing all the defendant sees.  Courts will inform the jury that the self-defense standard incorporates both and objective and subjective element: the subjective portion requires the jury to stand in the defendant's shoes and consider all the facts and circumstances known to the defendant, while the objective portion requires the jury to determine what a reasonably prudent person in a similar situation would do.  A jury may find self-defense on the basis of the defendant's subjective, reasonable belief of imminent harm from the victim; given this subjective component, the jury need not find actual imminent harm.  

Use of Deadly Force in Self-Defense.

The degree of force used in self-defense is limited to what a reasonably prudent person would find necessary under the conditions as they appeared to the defendant. Deadly force may only be used in self-defense if a person reasonably believes he or she is threatened with death or great personal injury.  

A person cannot use deadly force in self-defense unless they have a reasonable and good-faith belief that, from an objective standpoint, deadly force is necessary.   Where an individual claims that they acted in self-defense, they must produce evidence to show that he had a good faith belief that deadly force was necessary, and that their belief, from an objective standpoint, is reasonable.  

One has the right to use force only to the extent of what appears to be the apparent imminent danger at the time.  However, when there is no reasonable ground for the person attacked or apparently under attack to believe that they are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, and it appears to him that only an ordinary batter is all that is intended, they have no right to repel a threatened assault by the use of a deadly weapon.   

Imminent Threat

Imminent threat is not necessarily an immediate threat but instead acknowledges the circumstance of “hanging threateningly over one's head or menacingly near.  Imminent threat require any actual physical assault, nor an attempted lethal assault.  Imminent is defined as ready to take place; especially hanging threateningly over one's head 

Learn About Washington's Self-Defense Laws Here at Washington Gun Law TV. 






Defending Yourself is Your Right, But It Comes With Great Responsibility. 

Knowing when you can defend yourself and how you can defend yourself is critical to being a responsible citizen and firearm owner.  When in doubt, ALWAYS attempt as best as humanly possible, to avoid conflict of any sort.  Discretion is the better part of valor.  Carrying a firearm is a great right, but it comes with great responsibilities and ultimately you are responsible for every bullet that comes from that gun.  If you have any further questions about your right to defend yourself, contact us at:  425-765-0487.

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In order to truly protect those you love, you must know all your rights, responsibilities and obligations as a gun owner. We have nearly 20 years dealing with firearms matters and the answer to nearly every question you may have is right here.