Footage of an armoured car heist in South Africa, in which the security team employed deadly force in self-defence after they could no longer evade their attackers (attackers who had no problem recklessly opening fire on them first). Was this moral, ethical, and legal in their region?
Firearms Part 3: Morals, Ethics, and Legalities on the Right to Use of Force Audio by Jonathan

This is Part 3 of our series on firearms, it will touch on some of the legal, moral, and ethical aspects of gun ownership, as well as “use of force” models for law enforcement, security, and your average Canadian. Though, legal aspects aside, the moralities could apply in many places.

The first question I feel we need to ask ourselves is, should the government and its agencies have the only right to use of force in the defence of personal or public safety, and if so, why?

Let’s look at law enforcement’s model for the use of deadly force in Canada as an example. As the use of a firearm is considered “deadly force” under law, any action taken by police involving a firearm must be considered as such. Take this section from the criminal code which discusses “Protection of Persons Administering and Enforcing the Law” 

  • Section 25 – “When not protected: “(3) Subject to subsections (4) and (5), a person is not justified for the purposes of subsection (1) in using force that is intended or is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm unless the person believes on reasonable grounds that it is necessary for the self-preservation of the person or the preservation of anyone under that person’s protection from death or grievous bodily harm.”
  • Section 26 – “Excessive force: “(26) Everyone who is authorized by law to use force is criminally responsible for any excess thereof according to the nature and quality of the act that constitutes the excess.”

What does that mean exactly? It means that under law, technically only police are authorized to use a firearm for self-defence. It also means that if a police officer believes that there is a significant threat to their life, or that of another officer or member(s) of the public, they are justified in using deadly force, or discharging their firearm in order to deal with that threat. Ultimately, however, it’s not that simple, as there are many factors for law enforcement to consider in taking this type of action.

Referencing the criminal code again we can see that Section 25(4) specifies that a police officer, “and every person lawfully assisting” him or her, is “justified in using force that is intended or is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm to a person to be arrested,” if: 

  • a) The peace officer is proceeding lawfully to arrest, with or without warrant, the person to be arrested; 
  • b) The offence for which the person is to be arrested is one for which that person may be arrested without warrant; 
  • c) The person to be arrested takes flight to avoid arrest; 
  • d) The peace officer or other person using the force believes on reasonable grounds that the force is necessary for the purpose of protecting the peace officer, the person lawfully assisting the peace officer or any other person from imminent or future death or grievous bodily harm; and 
  • e) The flight cannot be prevented by reasonable means in a less violent manner

As we can see there is a great deal left open to interpretation in the use of deadly force, or further to that the use of a firearm, on the part of a Canadian police officer.

So where does this leave the use of firearms for self-preservation with regard to, say, private security?

Armoured car guards, for example, are considered under law to be “private citizens who are allowed to carry firearms for the purpose of protecting their lives on the job.” Unlike police, they are encouraged to disengage from a potentially violent situation (provided they are able to). While they are authorized under law to use force in certain instances, technically they are covered under section 26 of the criminal code, it’s never as black and white as that given the role they play as civilian security officers. Their use of force model is fairly simple, yet being that they are not law enforcement, they don’t have all of the same protections under law for the use of firearms in their job. For example, in order for an armoured car guard to justify discharging their weapon, there must be three elements in play during a potentially violent scenario; it is required the subject(s) in question (robbers, attackers, etc.) must have/show

  • 1. A weapon
  • 2. Intent to use said weapon; and
  • 3. A delivery system for that weapon.

Then and only then can they justify using deadly force. Even in the case of a completely justified shooting there will be an ensuing investigation, in which there is a high likelihood that the guard themself will be charged with a crime. Because, once again, under law they technically don’t have the same rules of engagement or protections in regards to the use of deadly force that police officers do. In the end it’s a tough spot to be in, legally speaking, should the need arise to defend their or their partner’s lives on the job. 

So, all that being said, where does that leave the average citizen in regard to using a firearm to defend their own life or livelihood?

The thing to keep in mind is that the moment you even pick up a firearm in, say, your own home or public space, and load it with the intent to use it on another human being, you are committing a crime according to Canadian law. This is very similar to the law in many former British Colonies, as they all utilize “common law” and a belief that only the government and their agents’ should have a right to such Use of Force capabilities as firearms (at least according to the government and the existing laws). The exception is the USA, which has firearms ownership entrenched in their constitution (to many peoples’ annoyance, especially those in government who would love to have a disarmed public).

In fact, from the point of picking up that firearm for self-defence onward, any experience you have in handling and using firearms will simply be a strike against you in a court of law with relation to the ensuing incident. In other words, the government and law enforcement really don’t want you using a gun to protect your life and or property in Canada.

Now, have there been incidences of average Canadians using a gun to protect themselves? Yes, absolutely, but any and almost all of those events that took place resulted in the person being charged with a crime, and often having to spend countless years defending themselves in court at their own expense, and either facing or receiving jail time. Section 34 of the Canadian Criminal Code, which covers self-defence and use of force for civilians states that:

  • “Everyone who is unlawfully assaulted without having provoked the assault is justified in repelling force by force if the force he uses is not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm and is no more than is necessary to enable him to defend himself.”

Right there, as an average citizen, you are being set up to fail the moment you employ what can be considered deadly force in the defence of your life. Even if the attacker has intent to cause death or grievously bodily harm to you, the difference between a conviction, jail time, and freedom (after a lengthy and expensive trial) is so grey that it’s almost not worth it even bothering. In Canada, like many countries, this is a context in which the law is very much not on your side.

To further this idea, here’s a few news articles on average Canadians who have used guns to defend their lives and homes, and how that played out for them:

Here are also some articles on the topic of self-defence in Canada:

And of course  here’s a Link to section 34 of the criminal code, “Defence – use or threat of force”, and recent amendments to that section.

Which, of course, is good to know since, as you would expect, knowing the laws in your own country is helpful. If you live in another country or move to another country it is kind of important to know if firearms are even allowed, and then if they can even be used in self-defence; so make sure you look it up if you don’t already know.

In summation, the government here in Canada, at all levels, wants to have the monopoly on the use of deadly force for self-defence (as is common among Western governments), and will go to great lengths to punish you for circumventing any laws or precedence related to the subject. But, once again we must ask, is it reasonable for them to take that position? When presented with the threat of deadly force, is it not pertinent for any individual to act in whatever capacity is required to protect themselves and their loved ones/property?

For example, let’s say one or more individuals force their way into your home in the middle of the night. They are brandishing edged weapons, or possibly even a firearm. Their intent is to relieve you of your personal belongings, and possibly even hurt or kill you in the process, should you get in their way?

According to the law, you should simply call the police, and wait for them to arrive. But what if that’s not a viable option? Perhaps you live in a rural area where the police will not arrive for a half hour or more? Perhaps you live in an area where the police have been defunded, and face a lengthy wait for help due to limited services and stretched resources? Even if you manage to get the call out for help, your attackers may work very quickly in locating and subduing you. Trying to get the jump on a group of armed, dangerous criminals while empty-handed, and possibly at a tactical disadvantage, will likely result in your untimely death, no matter how well trained or tough you are. Having a gun for self-defence in this instance acts as a kind of force equalizer. At best you can use it as leverage to get your attackers / home invaders to leave, and at worst you have a viable means of protecting yourself in that situation.

A reality of the difference between the belief of the public and that of the government was the increased rate of gun licensing and ownership in Canada and the US as a result of the Covid-19 panic. The average person very much now thought it would be a good idea to get a firearm just in case (and an ammo shortage followed). This behaviour indicates that the average person thinks self-defence with a firearm should be allowed, though the government’s stance is unlikely to change despite the fact there is common law in both the US and Canada (except for Quebec).

A self-defence scenario is by its very nature a scenario in which your legal obligations are in direct conflict with your moral and ethical responsibilities. What I mean by that is:  If your attackers achieve their goals, it will likely result in you being robbed, assaulted, exploited, kidnapped, or even killed, and it may also result in those same things happening to your spouse or your children. In that instance one’s moral responsibility is to defend their home and family by whatever means necessary, but, once again according to the law, you potentially become the criminal the moment you take potentially lethal action in that respect. 

The question one might ask themselves is, “would you rather be stretched out on a bed in a jail cell, knowing that you protected your family and home when the time came, or laid out in a coffin alongside or in front of all of them?” That’s a personal, moral, and ethical choice, not a decision I can encourage others to make lightly but, one that you may be forced to make at some point in your life. It’s always good to at least consider the best course of action in the worst case scenario.

All that being said, one of the best things that one can do as an ordinary civilian is to educate themselves on the use of force models for different aspects of our society and the applicable laws surrounding self-defence and deadly force. One should also actively engage themselves in the practice of martial arts and firearms training, as they are viable life skills regardless of what your political or social proclivities are. Expanded knowledge and skill will always serve you well, regardless of the state of the world itself.

Written by: Max M

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*Please read, learn and follow your local laws to know what is acceptable in your society and country regarding firearms, self-defence, and personal ownership. Do not break the law in your country regardless of your personal beliefs.