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Law of Self Defense: Using Your Gun to Defend Your Car — Just Don’t

Law of Self Defense: Using Your Gun to Defend Your Car — Just Don’t

Shooter who fires at his own car as it’s being stolen is locked in same jail as the thief

This story comes out of Chattanooga TN last week, and involves a man who fired shots at his receding automobile as it was being driven away by a car thief. That man has now been hit with felony charges, and ironically enough found himself locked up in the same jail as the car thief.

This as reported by local NBC news station WRCBtv.

I explain the case below.

A Cascade of Poor Decision-Making

As usual, there was a cascade of poor decision-making that led to this sub-optimal outcome.

First, the car owner decided to leave his car running as he entered a convenience store/gas station. I mean, seriously.

Second, the unoccupied running vehicle was observed by an apparent drug addict, who decided that was as open an offer to “borrow” a car as was likely to come along. The apparent junkie jumped into the car, and started driving away.

Third, the car owner, seeing his car drive off without him, ran out into the parking lot, which was crowded with other customers and folks gassing up their own vehicles, and decided this would be a good opportunity to make use of that handgun he was carrying on his person.

Firing Rounds At His Own Car: One Hit, One “Miss”

So it was that on 6:00 pm on a pleasant Sunday afternoon two rounds were fired by the car owner at his own car as it drove off into the evening.

What he was hoping to accomplish is hard to know, really. Head shoot the car thief, brush the brain matter off the dash, and drive on home? What he actually managed to do was put one round through the windshield of his own car, another round flying off somewhere of uncertain destination (but it wasn’t a miss, it certainly ended up hitting something), and get in hot water with the law.

As the article notes:

“[Chattanooga Police Department] Investigators determined that the gas station parking lot was full of customers when the vehicle was stolen and [the car owner] fired shots. They came to the conclusion that [the car owner] was “not in imminent danger and unnecessarily used deadly force to stop an auto theft. [The car owner] faces charges of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.”

Aggravated assault with a firearm by itself can easily carry a sentence of a decade in prison, and sometimes a multiple of that.

Shooter and Car Thief Booked Into Same Jail

The 35-year-old female car thief apparently didn’t make it very far before being found by police with drugs on her person, and a sharp item concealed in her mouth with which she tried to escape from custody. She was arrested on various drug, resisting, and obstruction charges.

Both car owner and thief were booked into the Hamilton County Jail, presumably in different cells.

I Urge You to Avoid Deadly Force to Defend Property

Folks, only non-deadly force may be used in defense of least-defensible property (the only exception is found in Texas), and a car not occupied by an innocent party under threat of harm will always be deemed to be least-defensible property.

Do NOT use your gun to defend least defensible property (unless you’re in Texas, and even then I strongly discourage the practice—it’s easy to meet fail to meet one of the many loopholes that even the Texas exception requires you jump through in order for deadly force in defense of property to be lawful in the Lone Star state).


Attorney Andrew F. Branca
Law of Self Defense LLC

Learn more about self-defense law from Attorney Andrew F. Branca and Law of Self Defense LLC by visiting the Law of Self Defense Patreon page for both free and paid-access content, and by viewing his free weekly Law of Self Defense Show. You can also find Andrew on Instagram @law.self.defense.


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So, once again we have a person carrying a firearm which they are ill equipped to handle reliably. And people wonder why gun control has so much traction.

Let’s start at the beginning of this fiasco. First, this guy leaves his unattended car running, while he goes into a gas station. What if the car had slipped out of gear and either backed over someone on the drive or hit a pump and caused a fuel leak which burned down the station? So, dumb move number one. Once his car is stolen, we have dumb move number two, shooting at it as it is driven away. One round missed the vehicle entirely and ended up hitting who knows what, it could just as easily have hit an innocent person, injuring or killing them. One round hit the vehicle, but, apparently failed to hit the driver. Again, what if it had hit the driver and either killed him or incapacitated him immediately? If that happens, you have changed the guided missile [aka the car] into an 3000+# unguided missile traveling at who knows what speed. What kind of damage is it going to do when IT hits something? So, this yahoo ignored all of these potentially horrible possibilities and opened fire on his own car, as it was driven away. And, there is no indication that the car was a danger to ANYONE anywhere. And, even if it was, it is almost impossible to stop a moving car with a handgun.

The fact that this guy had no idea of what the law is, with regard to using deadly force against anything, he didn’t have a clue as to the potential disaster he could have caused by 1) leaving his car running while unattended and 2) by shooting at the driver as the car was driven away. Poor life decisions are likely a way of life for this clown.

The moral of the story is simple. If you are going to be in possession of any deadly weapons, be it a pistol or a car, please learn how to use and not use those items. Give the rest of us a fighting chance, in life.

Yeah this just has stupid written all over it.

There is literally no scenario where this would be acceptable.

    willford2 in reply to Olinser. | October 31, 2018 at 7:48 am

    SAY the same when you see your vehicle driving off. It IS YOUR property. I live in TEXAS, and will shoot my tires if possible.
    I dont leave mine running without the doors locked.

      counsel in reply to willford2. | October 31, 2018 at 11:40 am

      What happens if one of your tire shots bounces off the pavement and hits someone? The mere discharge of a firearm in a crowded area without an imminent threat to life can result in felony charges.

      Mac45 in reply to willford2. | October 31, 2018 at 2:20 pm

      I would be very careful shooting at a fleeing vehicle in Texas. I strongly suggest that you consult Sec. 9-05 and Sec. 9-06 of the Texas criminal code. If you shoot at a fleeing car thief and injure or kill an innocent third party, you are liable for those injuries, IF your action is deemed to be reckless. And, even if you use deadly force lawfully, you are not immune to civil suit and civil penalty.

      Shooting at a fleeing vehicle can easily be deemed reckless, as incapacitating the driver essentially turns the vehicle into an unguided missile and it is unlikely that shooting a vehicle with a handgun will disable it, unless you strike the driver. So, if any innocent third party is injured or killed, or if property is damaged by YOUR action, then YOU could easily find YOURSELF liable for these damages, either criminally and/or civilly.

    Connivin Caniff in reply to Olinser. | October 31, 2018 at 9:03 am

    Let’s let the ultimate authority on this, the jury, decide it.

    being disabled with 2 disabled parents AND in rural area my car is much more to me than just transportation.
    yeah this guy was an idiot but laws need to change over this crap.

it’s easy to meet one of the many loopholes

A “not” seems to be missing.

This is wrong on so many levels.

One of, if not the most important point, do not use lethal force if your life is not in imminent danger. Someone leaving with your car, or running away with your whopper does not come close to this.

Scenarios should be thought through way before any action is taken.

I haven’t seen anywhere that says that Mr Domino was a concealed carry holder, I wonder if he was????

McGlockton. Donald Domino.
Nomen est Omen.

And thus the right to private property dies.

    maxmillion in reply to SDN. | October 30, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    With Andrew as their personal agent, how long till the perps figure out they’re golden when they help themselves to all your stuff as long as they don’t put you in fear of your life?

    Milhouse in reply to SDN. | October 30, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    If in your eyes this kills the right to private property, then I’ve got news for you: that right must never have existed. There has never been a time when the common law allowed the use of deadly force to protect mere property.

      CincyJan in reply to Milhouse. | October 31, 2018 at 1:58 am

      It isn’t “just” property. It’s the time and effort you put into acquiring the money to obtain the property.

        Milhouse in reply to CincyJan. | October 31, 2018 at 1:58 pm

        That is property. That’s what property is. And there has never been a time when it was lawful to use deadly force to protect it.

      snopercod in reply to Milhouse. | October 31, 2018 at 7:26 am

      You are mistaken. Out West they used to hang horse thieves. Look it up.

        Milhouse in reply to snopercod. | October 31, 2018 at 1:57 pm

        People who did that were murderers, and if they were caught by the law they were hanged for it.

          Gremlin1974 in reply to Milhouse. | October 31, 2018 at 3:01 pm

          Yep, it was either vigilante justice which is illegal or it was actually that the thieves were ordered hanged after trial by a Judge or Magistrate. I guess there were probably a few in places that were basically lawless, but once law was established it became a crime to hang a man without trial.

          Walker Evans in reply to Milhouse. | October 31, 2018 at 5:11 pm

          Sorry, Milhouse, you’re completely wrong with this blanket statement as you didn’t cite year or location. During the period when the West was being opened (the ‘frontier’ period) theft of a person’s horse was quite likely to lead that person’s death, so horse theft away from communities was considered, using today’s terminology, attempted murder. Since peace officers and courts were usually far away and difficult of access it was often the norm to refer these cases to Judge Lynch, which the formal legal system usually ignored, as it considered justice to have been served.

          Things haven’t changed too much in desert areas; a person stranded there is in imminent danger of loss of life. To set someone afoot far from main roads can indeed lead to charges of attempted murder or second degree murder if death does occur.

      Bullshit from a historical ignoramus. History is CHOCK-FULL of direct contradictions to your nonsensical assertion.

      Edward in reply to Milhouse. | October 31, 2018 at 9:00 am

      Try night time in Texas.

      tphillip in reply to Milhouse. | October 31, 2018 at 9:04 am

      Ignorant about NYS election law, and now completely ignorant about history. Is there anything you’re actually knowledgeable about?

      And put down the icepick. No need to get violent.

        Milhouse in reply to tphillip. | October 31, 2018 at 1:54 pm

        What the **** are you talking about? “Ignorant about NYS election law”?! Are you still claiming it was possible to change parties this year in time to vote for Cynthia Nixon? YOU were the one who made an utter fool of yourself over that, and I was completely 100% accurate. As usual.

        Milhouse in reply to tphillip. | October 31, 2018 at 2:03 pm

        By the way, the deadline to change party registration for next year has already passed. If you submit an application now it will not be processed until Nov-12-2019.

      ss396 in reply to Milhouse. | October 31, 2018 at 11:23 am

      So they cannot shoot you if you rob a bank? Good to know.

      (PS – sorry for the ‘down’ vote; I don’t do that. But I fat-fingered the ‘reply’ button and hit it by mistake.)

        Milhouse in reply to ss396. | October 31, 2018 at 1:56 pm

        That’s right. If you do not pose an immediate threat to someone’s life “they” cannot lawfully shoot you.

        Gremlin1974 in reply to ss396. | October 31, 2018 at 3:04 pm

        Sure they can if you are threatening someone with a weapon, but once you have the cash and are on the dash, nope.

So if a guy goes running off on your horse can you shoot him? ( The guy not the horse.)

    Toad-O in reply to RodFC. | October 30, 2018 at 11:44 pm

    Only in spaghetti western.

      nacnud62 in reply to Toad-O. | October 31, 2018 at 12:20 am

      Mr Eastwood. Mr Clint Clint Eastwood to the white courtesy phone.

      SDN in reply to Toad-O. | October 31, 2018 at 7:57 am

      Wrong. TX law allowed you to do exactly that, especially at night.

        Edward in reply to SDN. | October 31, 2018 at 9:17 am

        Morris wasn’t the only repo man killed. There was an incident in Mesquite involving a neighbor who stood in the street with a rifle and ordered the repo guy to stop. The tow truck driver made two mistakes. He was stealing* a vehicle at night and he employed a deadly weapon (tow truck) against an armed person, apparently thinking the person would jump out of the way and not shoot. Of course just the latter mistake might preclude prosecution for the homicide, but the combination of his neighbor screaming that his vehicle was being stolen and the tow truck driver deciding to aim the truck at the armed person decided his fate and the probability of prosecution.

        * I don’t know if the law had changed in TX, but at the time the common “repo” method was to hook up and take the vehicle when unattended – without any legal authority to do so. When people paid and got the vehicle back it often was without some of their personal property they left in the vehicle (these guys were employed to steal, they often didn’t stop at stealing the vehicle). Needless to say there was the allegation that the property wasn’t in the vehicle or who knows who stole it, it wasn’t the towing company or their employee.

    Shadow5 in reply to RodFC. | October 31, 2018 at 7:57 am

    That concept was from the preindustrial revolution when a horse was necessary to a persons ability to survive. Like many other laws it faded from existance when it no longer held relivance. Few, if any, persons need a horse to survive anymore.

Since it seems to be more a matter of mythology than of fact, Texas law is as follows:

Sec. 9.41. PROTECTION OF ONE’S OWN PROPERTY. (a) A person in lawful possession of land or tangible, movable property is justified in using force against another when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on the land or unlawful interference with the property.

(b) A person unlawfully dispossessed of land or tangible, movable property by another is justified in using force against the other when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to reenter the land or recover the property if the actor uses the force immediately or in fresh pursuit after the dispossession and:

(1) the actor reasonably believes the other had no claim of right when he dispossessed the actor; or

(2) the other accomplished the dispossession by using force, threat, or fraud against the actor.

Acts 1973, 63rd Leg., p. 883, ch. 399, Sec. 1, eff. Jan. 1, 1974. Amended by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 900, Sec. 1.01, eff. Sept. 1, 1994.

Sec. 9.42. DEADLY FORCE TO PROTECT PROPERTY. A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect land or tangible, movable property:

(1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.41; and

(2) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary:

(A) to prevent the other’s imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime; or

(B) to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property; and

(3) he reasonably believes that:

(A) the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means; or

(B) the use of force other than deadly force to protect or recover the land or property would expose the actor or another to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.

A question occurred to me: What about the fleeing felon rule? Tennessee was the state where Tennessee v Garner came down, so we know that as of 1985 it still had the rule. And that case only struck the rule down for policemen and other state actors. It was a fourth amendment case; shooting the felon was held to be an unreasonable seizure, unless having him at large poses a danger to the public. But non-state actors aren’t bound by the fourth amendment, so if Tennessee’s rule has not since been repealed, and if it is not limited to LEOs, this defendant should be covered, shouldn’t he?

Answer: The TN rule, at least in 1985, was limited to “officers”:

A Tennessee statute provides that if, after a police officer has given notice of an intent to arrest a criminal suspect, the suspect flees or forcibly resists, “the officer may use all the necessary means to effect the arrest.”

Even if it survives, it’s unlikely to have been broadened in the last 33 years. So no, it doesn’t help this defendant.

    nemesis443 in reply to Milhouse. | October 31, 2018 at 1:59 am

    That is no longer the case. Garner v Tennessee, the U.S. Supreme Court put restrictions on the use of deadly force. The rule of thumb is unless someone presents a deadly threat to an officer or others they cannot use deadly force unless the person is a fugitive suspected to have committed a violent crime, believed to be armed whose escape may present a threat to society, an officer may use deadly force to prevent their escape. We as private citizens do not have that legal authority.

      Milhouse in reply to nemesis443. | October 31, 2018 at 2:09 pm

      Hey, idiot, did I not explicitly cite Tennessee v Garner? (Not Garner v TN, by the way.) How could you possibly have thought I was unaware of it, when it was the whole point of my comment? As I pointed out, and you completely missed, Garner only affects state actors. In a state (if any) where the common law rule is still on the books, allowing anyone, not just officers, to use deadly force to stop a fleeing felon, non-state actors would still have that right. I wondered whether TN was such a state, but it turned out not to be.

    Note that Garner was a Federal civil case involving suit against the officer’s department, not a state criminal case involving the officer himself (he’d long since been dismissed from the case on the basis of qualified immunity).


      Milhouse in reply to Andrew Branca. | October 31, 2018 at 2:13 pm

      Yes, but the state courts are bound by the Supreme Court’s decision, so the TN statute is no longer in effect for state actors. And since the legislature had already limited it to officers, that means it is no longer in effect at all. Had the legislature originally applied the rule to non-state actors, it would still be in effect for them.

    counsel in reply to Milhouse. | October 31, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    If an officer had shot the Tree of Life shooter in the back while this vile murderer was fleeing it would likely be fully justifiable. That shooter posed an imminent an ongoing threat to life.

amatuerwrangler | October 30, 2018 at 11:59 pm

The only thing missing is the baby in the car seat in the back seat… so it could be reported as a kidnapping.

If everyone can own a gun, everyone will. As gun owners, we have to accept that fact and be proactive in defending our position. As Mac45 pointed out, this gives traction to our critics. We need to be ready for it.

I would imagine the only time this would be acceptable would be if the shooter were a police officer and the vehicle a police car, and even then it could be iffy if the officer did not have a *solid* indication that the driver was a wanted criminal instead of just some teenaged kid who decided to move his car as a prank. (because a police car has multiple lethal weapons in it, so ‘Fleeing Felon’ would be more likely to apply.)

If they try to steal your car, unless they try to carjack you with a weapon or run you over with the car there isn’t much you can really do except try to get a picture of the thief and call 911. If they drive off smiling and waving you just need to suck it up.

Just proof of something I have always said; “I carry, I know people that carry, however just because everyone can carry doesn’t mean that all of them should carry.”

Wait just a minute here! What if your car is trying to kill you? 🙂
(Mine’s certainly nickel & diming me, but I’m not ready to shoot it….

    I shot a plow yesterday.
    needed to put few holes in poly moldboards to allow chains to lift into trailer.
    buck and ball 12g worked well.
    other plow was steel….avoided shooting that one LOL

I do appreciate Mr.Branca’s pieces presented here. Good to have an actual Lawyer giving us the facts of a situation and what the outcome likely will be.

This is information that needs to get to everyone who carries a firearm or even owns one.

Thank you Andrew.

Many years ago people were taught by their parents how and when to use a fire arm. Then came the gun control laws, and the many attempts to disarm the citizenry. Now only those who truely pay attention can even understand the self-defence statutes. So Professor why don’t you lobby to make the Law of Self Defence class manditory in all high schools. It would certainly make more sense than many of the PC classes taught in schools now.

    I appreciate the thought, but I decline to teach in any typical academic environment.


      I can understand your position on teaching in a typical academic setting only too well. I still think the best way to defend the Second Amendment is to educate people on the “real” aplication of the law. And you may abhor the class room enviorment there are probably many law enforcement officers out there who would be willing to take up the mantle. You however would be a great advocate for the course .. IMHO

Gotta love Texas!

this is on the vehicle owner–just stupid–other than the possibility of theft, a running, unattended vehicle presents the possibility of a child entering the vehicle and trying to operate/move it to their own harm or to others–other than hitting the driver, your chances of stopping a moving vehicle with a handgun are minimal whereas your chances of harming someone else are significant

one of the few legitimate reasons for owning a title two weapon–if you have to stop a vehicle, you need the firepower to do so

    MajorWood in reply to texansamurai. | October 31, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    So I need to change my bumper sticker from “I own a shovel, a tarp, and a pickup” to “I own a shovel, a tarp, a pickup, and title 2 weapons. You will literally not hear it coming.” 😉

    As my buddy puts it, “when you need to hammer something, use a SAW.”

Yeah, the Twilight Amendment does not apply. The Constitution as written is notably Pro-Life.

Shooting at your own car is dumb for another reason.

Suppose the first shot hits the gas tank and the second one ignites the leaking gas.

Can you name one insurance company that will pay off on a car that the owner destroyed in such a manner?

From my reading of the self defense bible (The Law of Self-Defense) and common sense the only way this guy would have been justified to shoot would have been if he ran in front of the car to stop the theft and the junky tried to run him over.

If the property is life or death to you then really risk your life to stop a theft.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to iconotastic. | October 31, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    Actually no you could not “run in front of the car” and then be justified, in most states. That is you putting yourself in deadly peril.

    Remember one of the pillars of self defense is “Avoidance”, which means retreat or in SYG states means you can stand. It does not mean you can jump in front of a moving vehicle and then be magically justified in using deadly force.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to iconotastic. | October 31, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    Oh and if you got that notion from Andrew’s book, then I suggest you re-read it and more slowly this time.

Missouri law allows a person to use deadly force to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful force, if he or she reasonably believes that such deadly force is necessary to protect himself, or herself or her unborn child, or another against any “forcible felony,” which is defined to include robbery and burglary. Sect. 563.031

There are those in Missouri who have commented that the statute would only apply if the putative victim’s life is in danger, thereby justifying the use of deadly force. I think an argument can be made that that was already the common law rule when the statute was enacted, and since the statute goes beyond the common law rule to include defense against any forcible felony (as defined), it should be construed in derogation of the common law rule and permit use of deadly force in the case of any forcible felony (as defined).

That said, the fact situation described here doesn’t appear to fit within this provision of the Missouri statute.

Carjacking ? What if


All I can say is WOW. Really.

You run out in front of your fleeing car and open fire on it. Handgun rounds will not stop it before it run over you. If you hit the driver, no one is controlling the car and it runs over you. Either way YOU lose. And, as you are dead, crippled or critically injured, you lose more than just your car.

Incredible reasoning here.

You can shoot someone for stealing your stuff in Texas, but not in my state of residence.

What is the law concerning stealing “Your stuff” when it is in your home and you are there? If I wake up and there is a person in my home stealing or attempting to steal my stuff why is that not grounds for shooting him?

    Milhouse in reply to inspectorudy. | November 1, 2018 at 3:34 am

    Stealing your stuff is not grounds for shooting him. But there’s a long-standing presumption, going all the way back to the Bible, that a burglar comes ready to kill if confronted, so unless there is clear evidence that this burglar is not a threat to your life you are entitled to assume he is and kill him.

Major Wood

interesting you use the handtool analogy(hammer/saw)one of the reasons always carried an AK instead of a ’16–rather than hit an opponent with a screwdriver(’16), would rather hit them with a big crescent wrench(AK)

title two weapons(we just call them “twos” around here)are legal to own if you don’t mind the permit/paperwork/inspection hassle–as am sure you know, they were designed for two principal purposes: multiple attackers and fire suppression–with their introduction/advent in WWI, battlefield tactics were changed forever

to my mind(now)they are like a fire extinguisher–you MIGHT need to use them in an extreme circumstance but otherwise they are just another tool in your box