People carry weapons to defend themselves every day, some of them doing it legally and others doing it illegally. When a firearm is involved in self-defense, however, it makes the consequences potentially much more serious, both legally and personally. There are a number of different factors that you must take into consideration before ever trying to defend yourself with a firearm.
The first step that a person is supposed to take before anything else is to retreat if at all possible, avoiding the confrontation altogether. There are some exceptions to this, however, in certain states where they have accepted certain laws, such as the Castle Doctrine and the Stand Your Ground law.
The National Conference of State Legislatures states that the Castle Doctrine states that nobody should have to flee from attack in their own home. This means that if somebody is fending off an intruder or an attacker who is attempting to actively commit a forcible felony and is seemingly putting the resident in physical danger, they are able to use force, up to and including enough force to kill, in order to protect themselves and their property.
In many states, the Stand Your Ground laws have been adopted, extending the right to use force in self-defense beyond the home. This is true of the property surrounding the home, such as walking to and from your vehicle or things of that nature. It also allows for you to "stand your ground" and defend yourself using force without retreating in the event that somebody attacks or uses force against another person in a public place. This does not mean that they do not need to use reasonable force, however.
If this is not possible and you are forced to confront someone, you are expected to show reasonable force. This means that you are only permitted to reasonably use the amount of force necessary to stop the attacker.
Sometimes people who believe they were acting in self-defense can get caught up in legal issues for using an excessive amount of force. If you or a loved one need legal advice or counseling on an issue such as this, only a qualified criminal defense attorney can give advice and guide you in the right direction.