BOOK REVIEW: "The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition"
Way back in 1998 Gila Hayes was kind enough to do a review of a self-defense law book written by a young lawyer and competitive shooter of whom pretty much nobody had ever heard. I was that author, and the 1st edition of "The Law of Self Defense" was that book. Fortunately, Gila liked the book, and her praise soon occupied a permanent location on the back cover of future printings of that 1st edition book. Naturally, when it came time to send out review copies of the 2nd edition of the book, just released last month, Gila was at the very top of the list. I quickly shipped a book at to her at the Armed Citizen Legal Defense Network, a group founded and run by Gila and her husband Marty Hayes, J.D., and advised by a board of folks whose names are well-known to those of us in the armed self-defense community, including Mas Ayoob, John Farnam, Tom Givens, and Dennis Tueller, among others. (If you're not currently an ACLDN member, you owe it to yourself to consider becoming a member. I'm serious.)
Just today ACLDN published Gila's review of my book in their monthly e-newsletter, and Gila has kindly permitted me to reproduce that review in full-length here on my blog. So, without further ado . . .
The Law of Self Defense: The Indispensable Guide for the Armed Citizen, 2nd edition, published June, 2013
243 pages, soft bound
$49.95 ONLY $29.95 for ACLDN Members
Reviewed by Gila Hayes
In 1998, Massachusetts attorney Andrew Branca published a first edition of The Law of Self Defense. It wore a simple red paper cover, and its small type detailed the concepts of law and court precedents binding one who uses force in self defense. I learned a lot from that small book and began heartily recommending it in my articles and books. Readers became frustrated, though, when that first edition went out of print, and I was once offered four times the cover price of my copy, which I firmly declined. I’m delighted to note that the 2nd edition is now for sale.
This morning, as I sat down to review the 2nd edition of Branca’s book, I pulled my original copy of The Law of Self Defense off my reference bookshelf. I was amused at how heavily highlighted and bookmarked it is. The 2nd edition is formatted in the comfortable trade-paperback size with more margin room for notes, so readers will have a little more room if they wish to jot notes as they read this authoritative text.
In The Law of Self Defense, 2nd edition, author Branca explains restrictions on use of defensive force, writing “...society doesn’t require any pre-approval before you use force, even deadly force, to protect yourself. You may simply act when it’s necessary. But all that freedom built into the front of the system is more than balanced by a massive and unforgiving evaluation of what you did at the back end. Beginning the moment you use force, and sometimes even the instant you threaten force, the justice system kicks into gear like a massive steam era machine, with monstrous gears and pistons, to evaluate your actions under a microscope and crush you for a misstep.”
Among the “gears and pistons” are police, investigators, prosecutors and juries, each playing a role in which your best interests are not the first concern, Branca outlines. Sure, he acknowledges, we’ve all cheered victims who shot their attackers and were not charged with assault, murder or manslaughter, but that does not necessarily mean that an aggressive prosecutor could not have found issues upon which to file charges.
Are you willing to trust luck that you will be among those not charged if ever you use force in self defense? the author asks. Beyond simple luck, the key, he suggests, is knowing and adhering to the laws concerning self defense and offering a compelling explanation as to why your actions were lawful. Avoid “red flag” issues that attract prosecution like sharks to blood, he adds. In fact, identifying the red flag issues is the book’s raison d’être.
The “red flags” are discussed in a series of chapters focused on critical elements of a persuasive self- defense argument. The first is innocence, and Branca explains how it is lost, be that through aggressive or offensive verbal exchanges, a combination of verbal and physical aggression, or overt physical actions. Protecting your claim of innocence, as well as regaining it after initiating hostilities is also outlined, with key points illustrated by case citations presented as brief stories from real life that drive home the point. Each chapter concludes with a state-by-state summary of applicable statutes and case law. Though reasonably conversant with the black letter law regarding use of force in self defense in my own state, I appreciated the exposure Branca’s book gave to pattern jury instruction citations and to pertinent rulings.
Now may be as good a time as any to talk price: Branca’s 243-page book may be among the most costly paperbacks you ever buy. Suggested retail is $49.95, but it is sold online for $39.95 and by entering the coupon code LOSD2-ACLDN at checkout you’ll get an additional $10 discount, and free shipping, courtesy of Andrew Branca.
The book’s value is something like the old joke about the man who complained that his attorney charged him $50 to write a letter to a deadbeat debtor. The attorney agreed to redo the bill and modified the charges as $5 to write the letter and $45 to know what to say in the letter.
While the joke is old, the principle applies. The value of Branca’s book is not in the number of pages nor its binding; its value is in the way it concisely teaches the reader principles of self-defense law.
Returning to the 2nd edition of The Law of Self Defense finds us at the second chapter about the role of imminence in showing that use of force in self defense is necessary. Here justifiable self defense can go astray if force is applied preemptively or retributively. Next described is the need to apply force proportional to the threat, and the ordeals of the late Harold Fish and more recently, George Zimmerman, illustrate appropriate defenses against various degrees of force.
The chapter on threat avoidance and retreat addresses the myriad misunderstandings of the now-maligned “Stand Your Ground” laws. Branca explains that even absent a SYG statute, retreat is required only if it does not entail greater danger. The Castle Doctrine and the constraints on its application, is likewise analyzed. The home, outbuildings, vehicles, places of business and other locations are studied from the law’s requirement to withdraw when possible from conflict.
Qualifications on SYG and Castle Doctrine laws reflect society’s unwillingness to grant cart blanche to use of deadly force when other options may resolve the danger. Branca outlines the concept of applying a reasonable defensive response and what is both subjectively and objectively reasonable in the next chapter, presented as his fifth principle of self-defense law. Onto this principle, the effect of prior knowledge or training is overlain, as is physical capacity and other characteristics. Even your reputation in the community and prior knowledge of your assailant’s reputation influence whether your actions are reasonable, writes Branca, explaining the limited instances when past bad acts may be allowed to show your assailant was known to be violent.
While Branca’s principles comprise the foundation of justifiable self defense, additional concerns addressed include making defensible decisions about using deadly force to protect another person and the limited allowances for defense of property.
The Law of Self Defense closes with a review of post- incident mistakes that infer you are acting out of guilt for having committed a crime. Fleeing the scene, lying about the incident or not reporting it to police leads Branca’s warning list. Of course, tampering with evidence or coercing a witness also portrays a guilty conscience—whether done in ignorance or out of guilt. Alternatively, an innocent person’s behavior has recognizable hallmarks, Branca continues, emphasizing the need to behave to high standards. He adds a short discussion about how to introduce into testimony an assailant’s generally violent history to underscore a capacity for violence, despite the prohibition on citing prior bad acts as evidence.
After reading 200 pages of law, illustrative cases, and sentencing applied when things went wrong, the reader is surely ready to accept advice on how to avoid falling into the gears of the criminal justice system. Here, Branca offers simple, practical advice on avoiding all of it. Some say that when carrying a gun, they need not take “guff” off anyone, he writes. Instead, he stresses, you have to let it all go when you are carrying a gun, since the price of using force when a verbal exchange turns into a brawl is so very high. He closes with the observation that in addition to complying with the law, anyone who uses force in self defense has to ask if the harm stopped by their use of force was worth it. Before ever being drawn into self defense, ponder long and hard about what is worth defending, he concludes.
Sometimes the last page of a book is the end of the learning experience. Not so when the information is coming from Andrew Branca. In addition to updates and state-specific addenda on his website, Branca teaches seminars on this topic, and a little browsing shows that several of those on his schedule are hosted by firearms instructors who are also Network affiliates.
--Gila Hayes, Head of Operations, Armed Citizen Legal Defense Network
What can I say, except thanks for the kind words, again, Gila!
Andrew is currently in the process of planning his Fall 2013 Seminars. Please see Law of Self Defense Seminars/Webinars to get more information.
"The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition," covers the current state of self-defense law in all 50 states. We've heard from many of you, however, that you'd like to dive even deeper into the self-defense law of your particular state--to have on hand the full-text of every self-defense statute, jury instruction, and even the full-text of the most important and controlling self-defense court decisions. Fitting 50-states worth of level of comprehensive detail would result in a book that weighs 500 lbs, which is why we didn't take that approach in "The Law of Self Defense." Due to the great demand for this further detail, however, we have begun rolling out a series of State-Specific Supplements that do provide exactly such comprehensive coverage of each particular state's self-defense law. Right now these are available on a pre-publication basis at a 38% discount, with delivery of each to occur over the next 2-3 months--pre-publication customers will, as always, receive their books first, with shipment to the general public not beginning until all pre-publication customers have first been sent their books. To see the five states we are starting with, vote for other states to be covered, or to place your pre-publication order, click here: State-Specific Supplements.
About Andrew F. Branca
Andrew is an Massachusetts lawyer in his third decade of practice and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense,, 2nd Edition" now available at www.lawofselfdefense.com and also at Amazon.com as either a hardcopy or in Kindle version.