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Can you defend your home in Missouri?

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You wake up in the middle of the night and hear noises downstairs. You have a legal firearm in the drawer of your bedside table. You pick it up and quietly creep out of your bedroom, convinced that someone has broken into your home. When you get downstairs, two men in ski masks are standing in the living room.

Now what? Can you defend your home? Is deadly force permissible, or are you going to jail if you shoot? Do you have a legal duty to retreat and call the police?

These are serious questions, and it's very important to know what you are permitted do in advance. You can't sort all of this out in your living room at 2 a.m. Below are a few key things to realize about Missouri's gun laws.

Missouri's Stand Your Ground laws

In the past, citizens were generally told that they had a duty to avoid violence, especially when it could turn fatal, if they could escape. This was designed to make escape someone's first choice, theoretically keeping everyone from harm. However, if you are in your own home or your car, you do not have to retreat.

A new self-defense law that passed in 2016 and went into effect last year has changed the circumstances. Now, you don't have to retreat as long as you're legally allowed to be in that location.

Self-defense in public places

Old laws stated that people needed to retreat, if possible, when they were in public places. People could only use deadly force as a last resort when retreat proved impossible. If someone threatened you in a public park and you could run away, for instance, you needed to do so. If that person pinned you down and you feared for your life, you could defend yourself.

The key to the dilemma is that you must fear for your own life. You must believe that the other party is going to use deadly force. This makes it legal for you to use such force first to protect your own life. A recent death in Missouri will test the new self-defense laws.

So, if someone on the sidewalk grabs your purse or wallet and runs, you can't pull out a gun and open fire. If that person takes out a weapon and threatens to kill you if you don't comply with their demands, you can now defend yourself appropriately.

A mistake can lead to serious criminal charges

It's vital to know when deadly force is warranted. A mistake made in the heat of the moment could lead to murder charges. Make sure you know all of your legal options and how the current laws work before you find yourself in a sticky situation.

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