One Punch, One Kill

I often caution that a bare-handed attack, absent substantial aggravating factors, is almost invariably going to be treated by the courts as a non-deadly force attack--one not likely to cause death or serious bodily injury--and thus as a consequence can generally only be defended against by non-deadly defensive means: meaning, not a gun.

Many folks who carry guns lawfully for personal protection aren't happy to hear this, as they don't want to have to wait to be punched perhaps to the point of no longer being able to defend themselves before they can resort to their primary defensive tool--usually a gun--to defend themselves.

In support of their feeling that they ought to be able to use a gun to defend against even a mere thrown punch they correctly note that people do, in fact, die from a single punch. Indeed, here's a case of exactly this happening just this year in Wichita KS:

Billy Bargas, 45, was killed in a fight with his girlfriend’s 23-year-old son. Bargas’s girlfriend told police that Bargas tried to punch her son before her son punched him once in the head.

An autopsy report says Bargas was hit in the head and knocked unconscious around 7 p.m. Witnesses waited about 40 minutes, then called police “since he had not regained consciousness.” He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

The 23-year-old man has not been arrested or charged in connection with the death.

A separate news story on this event notes:

Police have since learned that a pre-existing medical condition may have contributed to the man's death. An autopsy will be conducted to determine his death.

What needs to be kept in mind with these cases, however, is that the denominator counts--sure, single punches can and do kill people, but only a tiny fraction of the time.

The overwhelming instances in which one person punches another of similar size, strength, and fighting ability, the victim of the punch doesn't suffer death or grave bodily injury.

So the overwhelming instances of a thrown punch does not constitute a substantial threat of deadly force harm--and is thus mere non-deadly force attack.

As mentioned, there are a variety of aggravating factors that can potentially shift a bare handed attack from the non-deadly force to the deadly force bucket.

It's important to keep in mind that those aggravating factors don't automatically do so, however--they are merely the kinds of factors a defense attorney would raise in arguing that shift. That argument may well be unsuccessful, despite the presence of those aggravating factors.


Attorney Andrew F. Branca

Law of Self Defense LLC

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