So what are these rules of self-defense? What is legal and what isn't? Was Willeford, the hero in the Texas shooting, justified in his actions?
The law, in most places, allows for the defense of others, Branca explains. And, when the shooter took aim at Willeford, self-defense laws kicked in. Even in the high-speed pursuit of the shooter that followed, Willeford and another man seem well within legal bounds, especially given that there aren't many laws governing mass shootings.
For people claiming self-defense in situations where they are personally threatened, things are a little clearer. Laws vary from state to state, as do those who enforce the laws. What seems an unlawful act to a prosecutor in Massachusetts may not be to one in Texas.
But generally, most states recognize a handful of conditions, up to five, that must be met to conduct a successful defense of self-defense:
- Innocence: You have to be the innocent party.
- Imminence: The threat can't be about something in the past or future; it must be now.
- Proportionality: The amount of force you use must match, and not exceed, the threat.
- Avoidance: In a number of states, but not all, you have a duty to retreat to avoid a deadly encounter.
- Reasonableness: Your conduct must be reasonable to the point that a prudent person would think it reasonable.
Since most states recognize self-defense as a defense for lethal force, Kristin Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign, says that's why these policies a bad idea. "Shooting in self-defense is legal in most cases, so why would people need insurance for something that they are legally entitled to?" she says. "We should focus on solutions to those real problems that impact far too many families instead of emboldening the George Zimmermans of the world to shoot first and ask questions later — which is exactly what this insurance will do."
Maybe. Maybe not. "You could do everything legally correctly and face a disaster in terms of finances and emotional stress," Branca says. "By the same token, just because you have, say, defense insurance, that's not a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card. If your use of force was unlawful, they may pay your legal expenses, but off to jail you go nevertheless."