Categories of Defensive Gun Uses

Whenever we talk about self-defense, and specifically the use of a firearm in self-defense, one of the things that often gets missed when breaking down an incident after the fact is where it falls in the spectrum of justified and/or avoidable.

To understand what I’m talking about, every defensive gun use falls into one of the following categories:

  • Justified and unavoidable
  • Justified but avoidable
  • Not justified

Let’s take a look at what these three categories mean.

Justified and unavoidable
This is everyone’s “ideal” self defense shooting. I have always joked that if I ever have to use my gun in a civilian capacity, that I hope that the person I shoot has a 4 foot wide swastika tattooed on his back, SS lightning bolts on his neck, and jumps out of the bushes 10 yards with a butcher knife screaming “I’m going to rape you to death” all while someone films it from across the street. Essentially, this shooting is the clean cut self defense incident that everyone imagines themselves in. An example of this would be the recent home defense shooting in Virginia, where the criminal tried to break into a woman’s house to kidnap her 14 year old daughter. Prior to the B&E attempt, he had purchased rope, duct tape, and a knife from Walmart. The mother shot him in the neck. Clean cut!

Justified but avoidable
A lot of people don’t understand what this means. Essentially, this is a shooting where the CCW holder is legally justified to use deadly force, but the shooting could have been avoided had the CCW holder used better tactics. When I say tactics I don’t mean pieing around corners or doing dynamic entries, I’m talking about simple things like de-escalation, situational awareness, and conflict avoidance. The most famous example of a justified but avoidable shooting is of course George Zimmerman. While what he did when he did was legally okay, the entire situation could have been avoided if Zimzam had been a little bit smarter. In my mind, this is an awful shooting to have been involved in as CCW holder, because it means you likely took someone’s life, and you have to live the rest of your life knowing that you didn’t need to if you’d been better trained.

Not justified
You’d think this would be self-explanatory, but it’s not. There are quite a few different classes of DGUs that are not justified. Whether it’s introducing lethal force (a gun) to an incident where lethal force isn’t reasonable, or most tragically making a mistake in positive target identification and shooting someone who isn’t committing a crime. That last category is an incredible tragedy, and happens far too frequently. The most common way you’ll hear it described is when a homeowner shoots someone they believe to be an intruder, but because that homeowner failed to PID their target, they end up killing their own child, or their child’s boyfriend/girlfriend.

This post is the start of a series here at the Lone Wolf Blog on principles of self defense. Our goal has always been to create smarter, better informed shooters, whether that’s through product education or tactical knowledge. An example of product education might be a post explaining why the Leupold Deltapoint is a good choice for a self defense optic to mount on your pistol, and an example of tactics might be explaining why it’s important to know your target. We hope you enjoy this forthcoming series!


  1. To me its pretty simple if advancing on you with intent and the means to do harm defend yourself If subject is leaving than your ass is hanging out if you shoot…. Lots of factors. An example if a 90 yr old unarmed drunk has entered the wrong house and your have a solid door between you and hes banging on it shouting “Sonny your a goner” you would probably be in deep shit if you hurt him. But if its a 250 lb man banging on the door and its starting to give way you would be more justified using deadly force.

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