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What happens if you shoot an intruder with a firearm?

You hear what sounds like a door breaking and not a sound from the dogs that you thought would warn you of possible intruders. You hear male voices whispering from what sounds like your 4-year-old daughters’ room and immediately think of the worst. You know that the attack on your family is imminent. And that there is no way police, security or even a neighbourhood watch could intervene whilst these thugs are already inside your house. You are your first and last line of defence. You are lawfully armed and you shoot one of 3 armed intruders. Two intruders have fled on foot, while the other is fatally wounded.

What should you expect if you shoot and kill an intruder inside your house? The introduction above simply sets a typical scene that thousands of South African citizens have been exposed to over the years and that many more are likely to be exposed to in coming years. It is important to not only understand what you can do to prevent such an attack on you and your family, but also what happens after you have stepped in, as a lawfully armed citizen, and eliminated the threat.   

  1. Make sure that the scene is clear of any other threats. In a scenario like the one sketched above, clear the house, make sure your family is safe, and that no one was seriously injured.
  1. It’s important that you do not leave the scene where the incident occurred. As alluded to in the first point, you should make sure your family is safe, but also, once you have cleared the house (with reference to the above scenario), not only is it safer for you, not to continue trying to locate the other suspects on your own, but it is also safer for your family.
  1. As soon as you are able to call, you must inform the police of the incident. If you are a member of Firearms Guardian, call the emergency number for legal process support, should it be needed. Also try and inform your local community safety structures, private security companies and an ambulance, especially to check for injuries and assist with treatment of possible shock. It is important to take note that your call to the police, if you called 10111, is recorded.
  1. You do not need to make any statements immediately after the incident. Unfortunately, it has happened in the past that police members told victims that a statement had to be made, which was not the case. At that stage, you would not necessarily be in the right calm state of mind to make an accurate statement with all the relevant details.
  1. If you are not a member of Firearms Guardian, you can call your attorney if you would like to be guided on what to expect in the further proceedings.
  1. Try and cordon off the scene if at all possible. Make sure that on arrival of any emergency personnel, including private security, that no one tramples the scene, possibly destroying vital evidence. The police in South Africa don’t always arrive on scene first and so it is crucial for the scene to be preserved until police do arrive on the scene.
  1. You can take photos of the crime scene if you should feel it is needed for future reference and investigation, just make sure you don’t send them around or post them on social media platforms. If you do take the said photos, make sure you don’t end up trampling the crime scene.
  1. If anything did change on the scene between the incident and when police arrive, make sure you disclose that. For example, the suspect had a firearm in his hand and you kicked it out of his hand for safety purposes. Do not lie or try and manipulate anything on the crime scene. You acted in private defence and you are allowed, according to legislation in South Africa, to protect yourself and your family, or any other life under imminent threat with a firearm.
  1. Make sure that your firearm is holstered once the scene has been safeguarded, especially when police or other armed security personnel arrive. This is important as we do not want them to mistake you for an armed suspect. Make sure that you do not alter the firearm and ammunition left in the magazine or chamber in the firearm in any way after the incident. This would also include not cleaning or unloading the firearm. Leave the firearm as it is and holster it, we don’t want any unnecessary suspicion drawn to you. If the police on the scene do ask you for the firearm that you used, for investigation purposes, safely hand it over or show them where it is for them to possibly examine, bag and seal it for further investigation. The police will likely ask you whether you have a licence for the said firearm, please answer them honestly.
  1. The detective on duty and SAPS Local Criminal Record Centre (LCRC) on scene, might ask you for a written statement. As said earlier, you do not need to write the statement right there and then. Within the coming few days, take time to recollect yourself and do the statement then. It is important that you consider getting some advice or support from Firearms Guardian, or, if you are not a member, from your attorney, before making the statement. It is always best to make one very accurate and relevant statement than to add several short statements throughout the process that may cause confusion or even contradict each other.
  1. The firearm that was used in the incident will probably be seized as evidence, ballistic and other forensic testing. The same will happen with spent cartridges that were found on the scene. Obviously, the scene would be photographed by the police, before anything is picked up and taken as evidence exhibits. Once the firearm is seized, it will be booked in as an exhibit at the police station.
  1. Once the above is complete, SAPS will take residue tests from your hands and body. They will most probably request you to hand in your clothing as evidence as well. The SAPS will request a copy of your firearm competency certificate and your firearm licence. Apart from the cases (i.e. House robbery, trespassing) opened by the complainant, in this case that would be you, the SAPS will likely also open a murder and/or attempted murder case. The SAPS should although only open an inquest docket if they suspect that you acted lawfully. Sadly, very few police members are aware of this being the actual correct procedure. It is something that you should insist on. You will likely be charged and given a court date while the SAPS concludes the investigation if a criminal docket is opened. The criminal docket will be evaluated by the Senior State Prosecutor who will determine whether you acted lawfully or unlawfully. If lawful, the docket will be scrapped from the court roll/withdrawn, if unlawful, the case will go on trial.
  2. An inquest is a judicial enquiry into the incident and only thereafter prosecution might ensue if the inquests suspects criminality. It is a far less stressful process.

Lawfully armed citizens that are well trained with their firearms, are an asset to your community’s safety.

I would like to give special credit to Sgt. Clark from Westville SAPS, who’s piece from some years ago provided me with great additional practical tips with regards to the topic.   

by Ian Cameron

Ian leads Action Society’s community safety drive and is the founder of Firearms Guardian and firearms.co.za.

 

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