Q&A with Mr. Andrew Branca, Esq.
Q: Andrew, perhaps we could start by asking you to tell us a bit about what led you to write the Law of Self Defense?
A: Sure. I’ve been around guns nearly my whole life, but in the early 1990s I started competitive pistol shooting, IPSC at first, then much more seriously in IDPA. In the New England winter months there’s not much opportunity for outdoor shooting, so I spend much of that time going to gun shows in my area.
Both at the range and at gun shows I occasionally overhear fellow gun owners discussing the use of force in self defense, and giving each other advice and suggestions on what is and isn’t legal and appropriate. Almost all of that advice is based on anecdote and rumor–stuff learned from a friend of a friend who knew someone who was a cop, that kind of thing.
Unfortunately, as a lawyer I know much of what these well intentioned people are telling each other is horribly wrong. Indeed, much of it is almost certain to end up in a long prison sentence.
Q: Can you give some examples of how people ‘get it wrong’?
A: Sure. Most people assume that they have an absolute right to tell their story to a jury, and that any reasonable jury would understand why they had to defend themselves against a violent attacker with a long criminal history. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
First of all, that violent attacker with a long criminal history is going to be described as the “victim” of the encounter–you will be the “defendant”.
Second, the attacker’s criminal history will almost certainly be inadmissible in court, especially if it wasn’t personally known by you prior to the attack, so the jury won’t ever know about the attacker’s criminal background.
Third, nobody has an absolute right to argue self defense to a jury. Indeed, the burden is on you to provide evidence that the use of force was necessary–and if that burden’s not met, the jury will never hear the words “self defense” in court.
Think about that scenario for a moment. You believe what you did was necessary, so you’ve already admitted to doing it, and the jury knows you’ve admitted to it. But they have no idea that the attacker was a violent criminal with a long record, and neither you nor your lawyer are permitted to even mention the words “self defense” in front of the jury. If you were on that jury, what verdict would you come to?
It’s these types of situations that too often end with well intentioned armed citizens serving long jail sentences for doing what they honestly believed was both necessary and lawful. And it could have been totally avoided if the defendant had just known a little more about what the law requires.
Q: So was that when you decided to write the Law of Self Defense?
A: Not immediately, no. It was clear that folks could use some real-world information on what was permitted in terms of using force, and especially lethal force, in self defense, so I started out looking for an available resource I could direct people to. I found plenty of resources on the law of self defense, but they all had at least one of three failings–they were themselves based on anecdote and rumor (such as much of the information in the popular gun magazines), they were of good quality but quite expensive (such as Massad Ayoob’s Lethal Force Institute seminars, which I’ve attended myself), or they were difficult and time-consuming to access or interpret for the typical gun owner (such as law libraries, or compilations of statutes and court cases).
None of these were quite what I thought would best serve armed citizens who wished to understand their rights and responsibilities as armed citizens. That’s when I decided to write the Law of Self Defense.
Q: So how does the Law of Self Defense differ from those already existing resources?
A: First, the Law of Self Defense is based on the actual law–the statutes relevant to the use of force, and even more importantly the court cases that interpret and apply those statutes. The plain language of a statue may have little relation to how it is actually applied by the courts and the armed citizen needs to be aware of that difference. In addition, the court cases in the book are based on real-world events, so the reader can use those actual events and outcomes to think about how they might react in similar situations, and how the courts might interpret their actions. Accordingly, the Law of Self Defense is thoroughly referenced with citations to court cases and statutes. This is the law as it’s actually applied, and not merely how your buddies at the gun match tell you it’s applied.
Second, the Law of Self Defense is priced and structured to be easily accessible to the typical gun owner. Now you don’t need to spend $600 to $1,000 and 2 to 3 days of vacation time to attend a seminar to learn what’s legal and not in defending yourself and you family. Instead, you can order the book and begin educating yourself at your own pace, and at a cost about the same as a couple of boxes of high-quality personal defense ammunition or a couple of pistol magazines. And the book is organized so that this complex and highly fact-sensitive area of the law can be readily understood without the need for a formal legal background.
Third, the book isn’t just a stand-alone tool for educating gun owners on self defense law. The book’s web site (www.lawofselfdefense.com) includes a blog on which I regularly post recent court cases to concretely illustrate various facets of self defense law. Although this blog is available free of cost to anyone, those who have read the Law of Self Defense will find it far easier to gain the greatest insight and understanding from these blog discussions.
Q: So what’s the current status of the Law of Self Defense?
A: The first edition of the book was published way back in 1997, and hasn’t been readily available for the last five years or so (although someone not associated with me is apparently offering to sell their used copy on Amazon for ~$200). But over the last 10 years many states have made substantial changes to important aspects of their self-defense statutes–including a variety of “Make my day” and “No retreat” provisions–and these have now begun to be interpreted and applied by the courts. So, it seems to again be an appropriate time to prepare a fully updated second edition of the Law of Self Defense.
As with the first edition, the book covers self defense law across the entire country, with illustrative statutes and cases drawn from all 50 states. The second edition has been thoroughly updated with all new cases, and in addition new chapters have been added to address the recent changes to self defense law throughout the country.
I wanted to be sure the second edition included all relevant court cases, so the book will begin shipping in February 2013. And for folks who would like to take advantage of a steep discount on the price, we’re offering 20% off the list price for people who order the book pre-publication (that is, before we begin shipping the book in February).
Q: It seems the Law of Self Defense is somewhat more costly than many other gun-related books. Why is that?
A: It seems more costly because it is more costly. The Law of Self Defense is simply the best book available to armed citizens who want to develop true expertise and and a deep understanding of the legal framework and decision making around the use of force in self defense. It’s not simply a state-by-state list of statutes and cases, or a series of personal anecdotes and unsupported legal claims. On the contrary, the Law of Self Defense is a tool–a weapon, if you will–to enable the reader to arm their mind as effectively as they’ve armed their person. And as is true the world over, the highest quality tools are generally more costly than what you can buy at, say, Harbor Freight.
Having said that, the Law of Self Defense isn’t for everybody. Like any other tool, or weapon, getting the most value out of it will require some work on the reader’s part. This book isn’t intended to be a bookshelf decoration, but a “shooter”. You don’t buy a defensive handgun and simply stick it in your night stand and forget about it (at least, I hope not). Instead, the true armed citizen picks up that weapon from time to time and practices with it, to maintain their skills. The same is intended for this book–I recommend it be kept conveniently at hand and small portions re-read on occasion to maintain your “legal” skills.
The good news with regards to the price is that we guarantee you’ll agree that the book is worth every penny–if you don’t, simply send it back consistent with our return policy and we’ll refund your purchase price, no questions asked. In addition, we’re making the book available on a pre-publication basis at a 20% discount. All you need to do to lock in the discount is order the book before we start shipping in February. And, of course, the same guarantee applies. It’s a no-lose proposition.
Q: What’s next for the Law of Self Defense?
A: Well, as I mentioned we’re maintaining an ongoing blog of recent court cases relevant to self defense law, and providing an opportunity for folks to exchange their questions and ideas on the law of self defense in a constructive and well-informed environment. Folks are also encouraged to email me questions directly. While I obviously can’t provide individual legal advice over the internet, such inquiries can be used as hypothetical scenarios on the blog to explore how the courts might respond in similar situations.
In addition to the blog, we’ll also be releasing a series of state-specific companion books to the Law of Self Defense. These books will be specific for each state, and will include each state’s relevant statutes, jury instructions and court cases.
Finally, over the course of 2013 we’ll also be exploring additional means of communicating information on self defense law to the gun owning community, including on-line video and seminars. Keep your eyes on the web site for more information on these opportunities.
Q: That all sounds great. Any final words?
A: Yes. It’s important to realize that having survived a fight to defend yourself and your family, the battle hasn’t finished–in fact, it’s only just begun. Now you have to survive the second half of the battle, the legal battle. And by that point, it’s too late to learn what you need to do to win. It’s absolutely essential that you understand the rules of the legal game just as well as you understand the tactical capabilities of yourself and your personal defensive weapon, before the day comes when you have to use force to defend yourself or the ones you love.
Perhaps nothing brought this home to me more powerfully than a letter I received a few years after I published the first edition of the Law of Self Defense. The letter was written in pencil on yellow legal pad paper, and the return address on the envelope was a prison. The author of the letter explained that he’d found a copy of the Law of Self Defense in the prison law library, and had read it to better understand how his actions in defending his life had ended up in a long prison sentence. He finished his letter by writing, “If I only knew then what I know after reading your book, I wouldn’t be here now.”
Don’t let that happen to you. Know the law, be informed, retain both your life and your freedom. You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to your family.