A moral puzzle

A post at SayUncle’s about a horrible tragedy brought to my mind an interesting moral conundrum in the practice of armed self-defense in populated areas.

In any setting other than a rural one, if you are threatened to the point that you are justified in the use of deadly force, there is no truly “safe” direction in which to fire your weapon. Essentially, if you miss your attacker, everywhere in that bullet’s range, in every direction, there is the possibility of someone being in the way that you can’t see – either in a house, or behind a fence, or over a hill, etc.  Remember, even a bullet from a snub-nose .38 can travel most of a mile. In even a small town, that can mean literally dozens of homes along it’s path. Even if you’re an expert marksman you can’t be certain you’ll hit the attacker – you’re aiming at a moving target while (ideally) you’re also moving.

Rule 4 states “Always be sure of your target, and what is behind it.” But where do you draw the line? When is an area too densely populated to allow armed self-defense, because a stray shot could hit someone you can’t see? At what point do you say “I’m not going to defend myself because someone else might get hurt?”

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