If SHTF, Could You and Would You Shoot Someone?

Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
If SHTF, Could You and Would You Shoot Someone?

For most of us, our home is our refuge. There is even an old proverb: a man’s home is his castle. But what happens if there is an intruder? Or worse, an intruder whose intent is bodily harm toward you or your family members regardless of the reason? How would you defend yourself and, more specifically, would you shoot someone? Could you shoot someone?

I have struggled with the answer to these questions and more, because, if there were a collapse of society – a true SHTF situation – there is a strong likelihood that I would be placed in a position to defend myself, my homestead and my stuff. And therein lies the problem. I am not at all sure I could shoot someone. As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure I could not.

There, I said it. For in spite of the fact that we have shopped for a suitable weapon for someone of my size and gender, and in spite of the fact I have researched classes and shooting ranges where I could practice and become proficient, I personally do not think I could not do it.

And you know what? My informal poll of others – both men and women – has told me that about 50% of us – if we dig down deep – feel the same way. I could not shoot with the intent to harm.

Sure, I know that shooting someone is not the question. The question really is “Can you safely defend yourself and your family against a life threatening situation or attack?” And if the answer is “I don’t know” or even “No”, then you have a problem. I know I do.

From the way I see it, we have three basic issues:

  • What are the circumstances where we should use extreme force to defend ourselves?
  • Will I end up in jail or prison for exercising my right to defend myself and my family?
  • How do I defend myself especially if I am uncomfortable around guns?

What are the circumstances where we should use extreme force to defend ourselves?

In my mind, you are justified in using force – lethal or otherwise – against another human being if, and only if, there is an immediate and unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm to an innocent person. So by my definition, someone stealing my stuff does not qualify. Neither would revenge for something that happened yesterday.

Breaking this down, this means that the threat would have to be now, not yesterday and not tomorrow. “I am going to come and get you tomorrow” would not qualify by my definition.

Will I end up in jail or prison for exercising my right to defend myself and my family?

Good question. The answer is maybe. There is something called the Castle Doctrine that dictates, on a state by state basis, the circumstances where you can legally defend yourself from bodily harm. Notice that I said bodily harm and not destruction or theft of property.

Castle doctrine derives from English Common Law and broadly affirms that the lawful occupants of a dwelling have the right to use force, up to and including deadly force, to protect against attack. Depending on individual state law, Castle Doctrine generally applies only if you have a “reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm” to yourself or to others.

Like I said, Castle Doctrine varies from state to state and some states have something called “Stand Your Ground” instead. Still, as a generalization, protections offered include the following:

Reinforced right to use deadly force: You have the right to use deadly force if you have an immediate and reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm. In some cases, the “reasonable fear” is presumed if someone attempts to make a forcible and unlawful entry into your residence or, in some states, vehicle.

No duty to retreat: The laws generally reinforce your right to “stand your ground” when attacked, rather than having to attempt to flee, provided you reasonably believe force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury and provided you are lawfully in the place you occupy.

Immunity from criminal prosecution: In cases of justifiable use of deadly force, police or other law enforcement authorities may generally investigate but not arrest you unless they find probable cause that the force used was unlawful.

Immunity from civil action: In cases of justifiable use of deadly force, a plaintiff (e.g. the family of the perpetrator) is barred from civil action and may be required to pay attorney’s fees and court costs from bringing such action against you.

How do I defend myself especially if I am uncomfortable around guns?

Okay, here are the choices that I have come up with in no particular order:

  • Chemical Sprays (pepper spray, bear spray, wasp killer)
  • Martial arts
  • Firearms (shotgun, rifle, pistol)
  • Battering devices (batons, fireplace pokers, baseball bats)
  • Stun Guns
  • Knives
  • Avoidance (hiding, running away)

I do want to note that most self-defense instructors will say that avoiding, or running away or even hiding from the danger or confrontation is by far the best thing to do. Unfortunately, that may not always be a viable and safe option.

For me, having a combination of these self-defense mechanisms is best. This will allow both Survival Husband and me to choose the very best option particular to the threat and our personal comfort lever (again “to shoot” or “not to shoot”).


Ask yourself if you are ready for the chaos created by SHTF, in whatever form it might take. Also, think about putting together a “SHTF Self Defense and Intruder Safety Plan”.

Here are some tips to get started:

1. The first step is to talk to your spouse, partner and/or other family members about your individual feelings a toward guns, knives and other self-defense weapons. This is not the time for BS. It is best, to be honest with yourself now before the need to defend yourself is called into action.

2. Examine some what-if scenarios and think about what additional information you need in order to become comfortable with your plan and with a possible “shoot” or don’t shoot” decision.

3. Invest in the gear and the skills you know you will use and then learn how to use them. The gear and skills that you select for one family member may be different than those chosen for another family member. One may choose a firearm and the other may choose a combination of chemical sprays and martial arts.

4. Respect the skills and mindset of your family members or others in your household. There is no right and no wrong.

5. Educate yourself regarding the Castle Doctrine Laws in your state and use them as a guideline in formulating your plan. Keep in mind, however, that if there is a SHTF situation, there may no longer be a government so any existing laws or rules may not apply.

The Final Word

The more you think about these things in advance, the more confident you will become in your ability to make a good decision under stress when defending yourself and your loved ones is the only choice your have.

To learn more about the Castle Doctrine Laws specific to your state, visit this link: The Castle Doctrine.

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From the Bargain Bin: Today I am sharing links to some of my own personal prepping purchases. Take a look around – everything is Survival Woman approved.

Sabre Family Home & Property Protection Pepper Spray: I am a big fan of pepper spray. Wasp spray works too but I prefer the convenience of this can that can be mounted next to my door.

Fiskars 7855 8-Inch Hatchet: I think a common mistake is to pick up a cheap hatchet from Harbor Freight and call it a day. This is something you do not want to skimp on. A Fiskars is easily sharpened and will last a lifetime.

Rothco 550lb. Type III Nylon Paracord: As far as I am concerned, paracord ranks up there with duct tape and zip ties. I wish I had known about this stuff years ago.

Volcano II Collapsible Cook Stove: I love my Volcano Stove. So easy to use and it folds up to nothing in its own carry bag.

Lodge Logic 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet: This purchase changed the way I cook. I use my cast iron cookware for everything from salmon, to bacon and eggs, to biscuits. Don’t forget the Lodge Set of 2 Pan Scrapers, a must have for cleaning those food bits from your cast iron cookware.

Lodge Logic Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Camp Dutch Oven: My second piece of cast iron cookware. Great when used on the Volcano II Stove.

MAGLITE XL50-S3016 LED Flashlight: I own a number of these. Small, sturdy, and easy to handle.


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25 Responses to “If SHTF, Could You and Would You Shoot Someone?”

  1. For those who have not been in the position or have actually used deadly force be it civil, law enforcement or military. I have heard Marines say with bravado what they would do and those were usually the ones that froze.

    I have been in this situation a twice at home and both involved my weapon and both not requiring deadly force:
    1. The persons broke in (loudly) thinking no one was home and I met them with my pistol holding them for the police. Both were juveniles but charged with burglary and assault with a deadly weapon because they brandished a screw driver and crow bar when they saw me. Both charged as adults.
    2. Someone broke into my apartment and as I racked a round in my shotgun I yelled out “I called 911 and I’m armed” the person ran off and was arrested an hour later breaking into an apartment on the other side of the complex. He had my girlfriends purse in his pickup truck. Turns out my girlfriend had left the slide door open.

    I have used deadly force in combat and in my old line of work and justified each time but I will say no one truly knows until they are confronted with the threat. Realistic training helps and dehumanizing the action is how Marines are taught in training but when it happens training and the real thing are two different worlds. I hope no one ever has to know what the feeling is like or have to do it.

    I suggest more than anything, secure your home, look at weaknesses in your access points such as windows, doors, trimming bushes or trees that could hide a threat and have a good lighting system etc.

    • I dont know, I am pretty sure I could shoot someone. In a typical climate I would say letting an intruder know you are home and armed should be enough. But- in the present climate, I think I could manage to pull the trigger if someone continued to enter after my warnings. This world is on the down hill ride. My only reluctance is their soul.

  2. I am a martial artist & a markswoman.

    When I was in college I had an intruder, called the police when I heard the screen getting cut, got my pistol & hid behind a chair giving me view of the man entering. I had him sighted & was about to sqeeze the trigger when the sound of sirens scared him off.

    That day taught me that I am capable of taking human life, but I spent a great deal of time with my priest coming to grips with it. It is no simple matter to take another’s life.

    Martial arts or a gun? One can kill as quickly & effectively w/ martial arts as with a gun, because it is highly unlikely an intruder is a trained fighter. The thing to consider is that with MA it is up close & personal. Just something to chew on.

  3. I felt the same way for many, many years. Although my husband had guns, I knew I would not be able to harm someone.

    Then I had my children, two girls. In thinking about a TSHTF scenario, I realized that I was *not* prepared to see them suffer (notably, rape)….so I now have my own gun and when I practice, I imagine that someone is coming for them. I pray that it never comes to that situation, and agree that the best defense is to secure the home, run away etc…..but if you have ever seen a momma bear protect her cubs- well, that is how I feel.

    • I agree whole heartedly agree. When friends asked how I justified killing in combat I would tell them “if someone tried to kidnap or was attacking your kid and you had a gun what would you do?” And 9 times out of 10 times they said they would shoot them.
      Parental instinct takes over and like you said training like its real becomes instinct.

  4. The rule in our home is you don’t brandish a weapon unless you intend to use it with possible deadly force. Any weapon you allow your enemy to see, but don’t intend to use is a weapon that can be used against you. If you have a gun, but do not intend to use it, don’t even let them know you have it because once they see you will not follow through on your threat they will take it from you and use it on you. THEY don’t live with the same moral code you do, or they wouldn’t even be in your home to begin with. As a mother and wife, I have no qualms whatsoever protecting my family. I cannot judge the morality and ethics of someone who has already broken into my home (which shows parts of their mindset) and I don’t think that once they are inside your home is a good time for a therapy session. Assume the worst and pray for the best. There are enough stories in the newspaper to justify assuming the worst.

  5. I do have a gun and under certain circumstances I would not hesitate to use it. Unless I felt for my physical safety I would not shoot someone. I was a sales rep for four years in a “previous life” and traveled alone on lonely isolated roads in my territory. I always carried a gun and would have used it if needed. Nothing scares me more than the thought of being stuck on the side of the road and having a group of unsavory characters stop, not necessarily to help. Martial arts isn’t going to do you much good in that situation. I broke down one time on a road in the middle of the everglades. I had called for road service and was awaiting their arrival, but I also had my gun sitting at the side of my seat. People did stop, but no one got out and all was fine, but we never know who might show up a such a situation. I still travel a lot and a lot of times alone traveling across the U.S. and I carry a gun. Never had to use it and I pray that I never do, but I feel safer knowing that its there.

  6. Many years ago I was being stalked by someone who had previously held me at gun point and threatened my life on numerous occasions. After getting a restraining order, the local sheriff deputized me and told me to go home and tell my dad I needed a gun. This was a small country town, and the sheriff didn’t have the resources to protect me but wanted to help me stay safe. I went home and told my dad who promptly went into his room and brought out a gun for me. Before he would give it to me he asked: “Can you shoot to kill?? If you can’t kill, you can’t have the gun. If you pull the trigger of ANY gun aimed at another human, you MUST know that it will be either their death or your own. If you don’t plan to kill them, then plan to die.” I was already facing the possibilty of dying at the hand of the stalker, so I took the gun and we went outside and I began learning to use it. Many years and several guns later, I still hold that truth… if I shoot it must be to kill… when using deadly force only one will survive… and I intend for it to be me. I am prepared mentally for that outcome, should the situation arise. I don’t like it, I don’t want it, but when it comes to owning and using a gun there is no other option.

  7. I feel confident that I can shoot to kill. We have practiced being in different rooms when an intruder breaches our home and have guns stashed in optimal places. I don’t walk around the house armed, but I know there is one only a few steps away.
    I have read the story of putting the note on the door about ” Bubba, Your dog attacked the UPS guy…etc.” Mine says ” JR, Damn, I wish your pit bulls would bark. I came in and they held me in the corner for an hour before your brother got home. Figured if I moved I was toast. You really should lock the doors. Won’t be back unless you are home, Mac”
    We have most of the outside lights, what I would really like is a switch in the bedroom to turn on some really bright lights in the rest of the house. Guess I’ll work on the one. Our doors have good locks, but the problem I see is the doors are only as strong as the glass in the windows near them or the sliding glass door. Our small town has recently had several armed daytime break ins and that is occuring to close to home. People have been home during these breakins and tied up bit not injured. Thank God for that.
    Thanks for your website. I have been reading George for 3 years and am glad you two are going to work together.

  8. First, let me say that I do not own a gun and so this makes the contemplation of deadly force even more hypothetical, since first I would have to get a gun. On the other hand, I have had some training with a rifle, pistol and shotgun. I think that shotgun would be my best defensive weapon. I have pondered this question off and on for over 30 years — I started reading up on prepping back in the early 80s and one of the books that made a real impression on me was Bad Times Primer. Cobb asks his readers to contemplate the notion of having to shoot someone to protect one’s domain, life, stuff, whatever, and under what conditions one might choose deadly force.

    So, could I? Yes, I have taken serious stock of myself and in order to protect me and mine, I could use a shotgun effectively. And yet… as Jarhead says, one does not know until presented with the situation, so I will rephrase my answer with an unequivocal “maybe, yes”.

    In your article you list other weapons. For each of those weapons you would have to ask the same question… some of them are quite difficult to answer… Could I knife someone? Could I tase someone? Could I hit someone with a baseball bat or a poker. Could I spray them with some chemical? Frankly I don’t want to be that close to someone who is threatening me or mine. I also don’t want the blood spatter. Knives, bats and pokers are awfully personal weapons and you have to be mightily close to someone to actually hit or cut them… so no… I would not chose any of these weapons as my weapon of choice — well except for hiding… with a shotgun… but then that wouldn’t protect my stuff very well now would it?


  9. I do own a gun but have not take the next step which is to obtain the concealed carry permit. Carrying a concealed presents even more moral dilemmas. If I or my family were threatened I would be able to shoot. However, I do worry about not being able to reach the gun right away, as it is kept in a locked case out of reach of kids. So I keep the taser and pepper spray close to me at all times.

  10. I enjoyed the article. Some issues to contemplate. One, and I’ve said this previously, chemical sprays only work on 90 per cent of the population. Never forget that. There are mixtures out there that, in addition to the pepper spray, create a foam that prevents the assailant from breathing. But even that is no guarantee of safety. Second, always follow the police motto: never draw your weapon unless you plan to use it; if you draw it, plan to shoot; and if you shoot, shoot to kill. Third, and I’ve read this on several websites in the comments section, there are people with weapons, alot of weapons that state their intent to take by force whatever a person has stored for emergencies. They say what they mean and mean what they say. They are not making idle boasts. Never forget that when debating whether to use force or not. Fourth, as for martial arts, never forget a pistol or rifle or shotgun negates that: a bullet always travels quicker than a person’s reflexes. Fifth, never forget this: a person with an edged weapon can reach a person with a holstered weapon quicker than the pistol can be drawn. Sixth, the human body can take alot of abuse so make that first shot count. For example, I’ve read of tales of rounds ricocheting off bones at point blank range or , and this really scared me, a tale of two police officers killed with their own weapons AFTER shooting the assailant eight times. I’ve had some first hand experience in observing the results of trauma and gun shot wounds. Seventh, a person with a baton always has the advantage when confronted by a person with a knife, a longer reach. Eighth, most important, don’t count on the police. You can have all the laws in the world, but if there is no one to enforce them or refuses to enforce them, they don’t mean a thing. Consider that in a real SHTF scenerio, where there is a breakdown of government, total anarchy, there either may be few police officers to enforce the law or the officers will home protecting their families, their priority or the situation is so bad they will refuse to deal with it or don’t possess the weapons to deal with it or …in an economic meltdown where currency is worthless ….they won’t risk their lives for free. Don’t forget the facts of what has been happening across the country for the last year or so, with budget cutting measures that lay off police officers and departments not responding to certain calls like burglary. The scene in the beginning of the movie, Robocop, where the officers have several criminals cornered in a warehouse and ask for back up and are told none are available. That was fiction. What is happening in the U.S. is fact. Ninth, I guess the real question to ask yourself is: what will you do to survive in a SHTF situation? Only the individual person can answer that.

  11. I dealt with this question 47 years ago when I joined the service. 20 years in the military and I have never changed my decision. I don’t want to shoot someone and would only make that decision under the circumstances that left me no other choice. However if you find yourself in that situation you don’t want to finish second. You must be decisive and act not hesitate. No regrets, no second thoughts.

  12. I can’t say I have any qualms about it. Having been placed through no fault of my own in a position where it was necessary to use a firearm to protect my family, I did not then have any mental reservations or remorse and I do not now. I believe if you have a gun and you are threatened, you will use it. Can’t say how you will feel about it afterwards but the human instinct to survive, and to protect your loved ones, will usually overcome philosophical issues in the heat of the moment. If not, you have to be prepared to live with the consequences of your inability to act on your own or their behalf. I’m not being judgmental or mean, that’s just reality.

  13. I can respect a persons decision about these things…….But, we are forced to make decisions sometimes we don’t like or we become a victim. It’s a fact in a SHTF scenario the bad people won’t share your moral values. When you are dealing with the devil you have to play by his rules or perish, there is no options, at least not if you prefer to survive. Of course some choose to die.

    • Very true, in life or death, its my life their death and in a shtf situation there are no rules until everything is back to normal.

  14. Not to make lite of things, but we are talking about SHTF here. This is after people have made runs on the stores and wiped them out, some or all utilities may be down, people in or around cities will go nuts and start rioting and rummaging for food, water and weapons. Law Enforcement, if still intact, will be press to the breaking point trying to keep themselves safe as well as everyone else. I would say in this situation you will see things differently when making the choice if you find someone/group breaking in or already in your home. For me, I would do what I can to best scare them off or end the threat for good and possibly save others (as mention in a post above, they scared off a robber only to find out they had tried breaking into someone else apartment). You have to make that call when the time comes. I am never the type that believes in absolutes, you have to be the judge, jury and executioner in this situation. I have never been in that situation and hope to God I never will be, but I believe I would end their life and regret it and relive it in my mind for the rest of my life, but feel satisfied that myself, my wife and kids are still alive. I believe in that situation, where there is no law, because no one is there to enforce it, your mind set and your way of thinking will be so heighten in that fight or flight mode that giving up or hiding will not be the answer and killing will be. But again, I hope we never find ourselves in that situation.

  15. Just wanted to commend Survival Woman for bringing up a needed, very needed issue that needs to be considered and dealt with: in a SHTF situation could you, would you shoot someone. No other site that I have come across has raised that question.

  16. Hi SW – It’s good to go through these scenarios beforehand, to mentally think through what you’d do under certain circumstances. As a husband and father, I regularly think through what my actions would be if put into situations I’d rather not be in. But that’s part of being prepared.

    The way I think about it is: if I do not stop the home intruder, then I’ve placed my family at risk. I don’t know the intentions of the intruder and I personally cannot put my family in that kind of jeopardy. I’d rather not shoot someone, but when it comes down to it, I’d rather live with that than risk living with another outcome that I could have prevented.

    Everyone must make their own decisions, though.


  17. A couple comments about the replies on your main page: I’ve been shot with a *frozen* paint ball at close range…it hurt like holy heck! But it did not prevent me from from moving, didn’t even slow me down. I’ve also been shot with a .22 at close range in the arm and leg during a home invasion – that didn’t slow me down either…absolutely did not prevent me from going right back after him (my husband was wrestling him to the ground at the time). Adreneline is a beautiful thing, but it can also work against you. My point: the paintball gun itself would make a better defensive weapon over shooting with it. Also, if I’d used pepper spray, I would have had to spray my husband too – and doing that would have taken out my main line of defense at that moment – MY HUSBAND!

    But some things I learned during that home invasion are:
    1. I thought I could talk our way out of the situation – not possible.
    2. It is absolutely my instinct to throw caution to the wind when push comes to shove to protect my family
    3. Being shot in the body doesn’t even hurt for a good long while
    4. It is not in my nature to grab a weapon first :{ I grew up with guns, they don’t bother me a bit, but.
    5. I used to beleive the police/courts would take care of the aftermath – they/it does not. In fact they held my husband for a time because this was somehow his fault, they considered charging my husband with brandishing because he has a conceal permit and is required to retreat, they held 2 of my husbands guns in the evidence room for 3+ years (he’s got them back now) and the intruder who shot me spent very little time in jail.

    I’ve had the luxery of finding these things out now so can work to rectify them.

    • If you don’t mind, what state are you in. Sounds like NY (my state), very sorry state.

  18. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE!!! Do NOT ever totally depend on an external weapon such as knives, clubs, etc to defend yourself. Unless you know how to use them in a defense situation, the assailant will quite probably take it from you and use it on YOU!!! That’s why you must NOT have a gun unless you know both HOW to use it and are WILLING to use it. I’ve taught martial arts for almost 50 years, taught Defensive Tactics to Law Enforcement, was and Auxiliary Policeman and had combat training in the military. Everyone MUST understand that THEY are responsible for their own safety–not the cops, not your dog or burglar alarm, etc–YOU! Take a self-defense course which is reality-based, not some crap I’ve seen like, “Kick him in the groin and run like Hell!”. This said by a snickering chief of police. I felt like screaming at him. In a good 4 hour seminar you can learn a lot about body weapons and body targets–things which take no strength or continued practice. YOU CAN DEFEND YOURSELF!!

    • Last weekend I attended a 10 hour course on handgun safety and use. I called it “going to gun school”. I plan to write about it this week or next but just want to say that everything you mention above was covered and more. Yes, I learned to shoot and to handle a gun safely but until it becomes “muscle memory” the use of a firearm can hurt ME more than someone else.

      As you say, you must have the right mindset and even then, it takes skill and practice.

      Thanks for the reminder.

      — Gaye

  19. Before choosing not to use a firearm in self defense, you should become knowledgeable of the results suffered by those who choose other alternatives for self defense.

    I suggest people read the work of Dr. Gary Kleck in his book about armed in America. Kleck used federal government victimization studies dealing with millions of cases of crime. Kleck compared the injury and death rates of the victims by their chosen means of “defense.” The chosen means of self defense ranged from running away, full cooperation, hand to hand combat, use of non lethal weapons, and use of a firearm. For those who advise running away or full cooperation in order to survive, you need to know that your choice was the second best alternative. But, you would still suffer twice the injury and death rates as you would have suffered from using the best alternative. And for those of you who advise the use of martial arts or non lethal alternatives, the results of millions of cases of those who did as you advise show that you are just asking to get more severely hurt than anyone else.

    The most effective way to avoid injury or death when trouble has chosen you as a victim is to use a firearm in self defense. That is not opinion. That is a fact as shown from the results of millions of cases of victims who already made these decisions. The next best alternative still has twice the injury and death rate as the best alternative.

    I do not get to choose who the bad guys decide to make a victim. But, I do get to choose whether I am willing to let their decision be the final decision. That is why I carry a gun every day. I am too old and decrepit to pretend that I can fight a healthy young man – or men – or even run away. Besides, I have a wife that depends upon me to protect her, and I can not do that if I have already been neutralized because of poor decision making on my part.

  20. I learned, like all soldiers do who go to combat, that not all that go into combat come out alive. Only those that understand that the “other guy” has asked my help in him keeping his private appointment with his God normally come out alive. So, if the situation dictates, help “the other guy” in keeping the appointment that he so desperately wants. This is NOT a tongue-in-cheek remark but away to help you understand that you have several ways of looking at the need to make a decision that you will have to live with the rest of your life. The first time you must take a life you change on the inside in a way that can never be undone. May God guide you. God’s speed.

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