What Is Reasonable Force?

instructor demonstrates self defense techniques against a gun using reasonable forceWhat Exactly Is Reasonable Force?


Most of us aren’t involved in physical violence very often.  The lifestyle of the modern human doesn’t dictate fighting for land territory or knocking heads to establish the alpha.  Occasionally, however, violence erupts. And when it does, it’s important to know what you can and can’t do in order to protect yourself while remaining on the correct side of the law.

Most violence, beyond senseless fights in the street, involves a clash between two sources: an aggressor and a defender.

An aggressor is someone who seeks to gain from the altercation.  A home intruder, for example, subdues homeowners in order to steal their property.  A defender, by contrast, is one who seeks not to lose during the altercation.  In the context of a home invasion, the defender is the homeowner who doesn't want to lose their property.

Being an aggressor is almost always against the law.  Being a defender is not always immune from the law, but can engage certain legal defenses to avoid punishments.  Let’s discern what kind of defensive force is legal.


Self-Defense Laws Around the World

Before we continue, remember that Hydra Tactical is not your lawyer.  While you can trust that the information we publish is well-researched and correct, you should always seek licensed legal counsel before, and especially after, the use of force of any kind.

Back to the issue at hand.  People love to hate the United States.  In fact, in performing research for this piece, it was difficult to find many articles written after 2005 that were even remotely positive about the United States when it comes to physical force.  Hating America seems to be the “cool” thing to do these days, particularly amongst two key groups: young people, and people who live anywhere except America.

If we tune out this annoying fad, however, we see that the numbers tell an entirely different story.  America is far more diverse than every single country in Europe. We lead the world in average individual wealth.  And we are the single most powerful source for economic and technological progress on the planet. It’s not even remotely close.

Another area in which the United States is ahead of the curve is self-defense laws.  This is because Americans, regardless of political party, race, religion, or sexual orientation, all agree that the right to defend yourself and your property is sacred.  

Other countries, particularly in Europe, often deal stark punishments to those who try to defend themselves.  For example, in the United Kingdom, if you fire a warning shot at someone who is unlawfully inside of your house with the intent to harm you and your family, you could go to jail for assaulting the attacker.  And you can forget pepper spray.  The UK police want you to use a non-toxic dye to mark your attacker, rather than potentially harm him.

European police use reasonable force to arrest a protester.

The main differences between self-defense laws in the United States and the same laws abroad are in the way we interpret “reasonable force."

In the United States, most jurisdictions employ something called the castle doctrine.  The castle doctrine gives the provision that you can expect safety in any place where you have a legal right to be, such as your house.  We use this doctrine to justify a stand-your-ground philosophy, wherein it is the attacker, NOT the property owner, who should flee.  It sounds like common sense to Americans, but in many countries, the law forces on its citizens the “duty to retreat”: if someone invades your house, you’re required by law to run away.

Most Americans find it difficult to imagine being forced by the government to allow an attacker to take over your house as you flee.  That’s why self-defense laws in the United States are far more effective at deterring criminals. As an example, Britain’s knife crime is at a record high, despite harsh knife bans across the board.  Go figure.


What Constitutes Reasonable Force?

A female jogger uses pepper spray to defend herself in line with reasonable force. This is where some people get confused.  The United States, although we enjoy, and even take for granted, certain freedoms that the citizens of other countries cannot, is not a lawless land.  Reasonable force laws help to prevent the overuse of force.  For example, if someone pushes you, you are not, then, allowed to shoot them in the face with a 20-gauge.  The defending force you use must be reasonable, which means you can only use force that is necessary to stop the furtherment of harm, nothing more.  This logical application of limits is what separates us from the animals.Your state’s definition of reasonable force will likely be slightly different from other states, so it’s important to consult your local literature.  In general, in the United States, so long as the defender reasonably believed that his or her use of force was necessary in order to prevent physical harm or felonious activity, he or she has a viable defense in court.

If you’re concerned about a recent altercation you had, or about an altercation you might soon have, consult a defense lawyer.  He or she will have information about the specific laws of your municipality, as they might differ slightly from others.

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