This answer from a guy who often has to visit private properties in the rural US has made me wonder what, if any, offence a regular civilian (not a policeman etc.) commits by pulling (that is pointing) a gun on someone they see for the first time and who does not appear to have any weapons and does not appear threatening to a reasonable person.

To begin with, let's assume that the gun holder:

  • Stands on his own backyard or driveway (i.e. not inside his house); the target stands there too; and
  • Does not say anything when pulling the gun, or simply demands the target person to leave.

Variations:

  • The gun holder verbally threatens to injure or kill;
  • Target is on a public road;
  • Both the gun holder and target are on a public road.

If the answer varies from state to state please focus on Tennessee and North Carolina, but it would be also interesting to hear of any edge cases.

  • “doesn’t appear threatening to a reasonable person” does the person appearing non threatening posses a weapon, firearm or any type, that’s in plane site and not being brandished in a threatening matter, as to coincide with the person that does not appear threatening to a reasonable person?? – user15669 Feb 27 at 9:57
  • @TonySnow no, the target does not have any weapons whatsoever (updated question to clarify that). – Greendrake Feb 27 at 10:07
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    FWIW, there is significant state to state variation. I've made a comment to an answer from the state I am most familiar with, but TN and NC might very well be different than NY or CO on this point. – ohwilleke Feb 28 at 1:46

Depending on the state, menacing may be a separate offense from assault. For example, here is New York State's law on menacing (New York Consolidated Laws, Penal Law - PEN §120.13–16):

§120.13: A person is guilty of menacing in the first degree when he or she commits the crime of menacing in the second degree and has been previously convicted of the crime of menacing in the second degree or the crime of menacing a police officer or peace officer within the preceding ten years. Menacing in the first degree is a class E felony.

§120.14: A person is guilty of menacing in the second degree when:

1. He or she intentionally places or attempts to place another person in reasonable fear of physical injury, serious physical injury or death by displaying a deadly weapon, dangerous instrument or what appears to be a pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, machine gun or other firearm;  or

2. He or she repeatedly follows a person or engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts over a period of time intentionally placing or attempting to place another person in reasonable fear of physical injury, serious physical injury or death;  or

3. He or she commits the crime of menacing in the third degree in violation of that part of a duly served order of protection, or such order which the defendant has actual knowledge of because he or she was present in court when such order was issued, pursuant to article eight of the family court act, section 530.12 of the criminal procedure law , or an order of protection issued by a court of competent jurisdiction in another state, territorial or tribal jurisdiction, which directed the respondent or defendant to stay away from the person or persons on whose behalf the order was issued.

Menacing in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor.

§120.15: A person is guilty of menacing in the third degree when, by physical menace, he or she intentionally places or attempts to place another person in fear of death, imminent serious physical injury or physical injury. Menacing in the third degree is a class B misdemeanor.

However, not all states define menacing separately from assault, and the exact definition varies by state.

  • And that was just "displaying a deadly weapon", which is much less serious than pointing a gun at someone. – gnasher729 Feb 27 at 23:29
  • Colorado has a similar "menacing" offense. Colorado Revised Statutes Section 18-3-206 (which is in a part of the article entitled "Offenses Against The Person" called "Assaults"). It is a felony punishable by 1-3 years in prison when a firearm is involved. – ohwilleke Feb 28 at 1:43

If a reasonable person would fear bodily harm as a result (and they would) then this is assault.

  • Is it assault even in a situation in which shooting and killing the person would be lawful? – phoog Feb 27 at 17:22
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    @phoog Not in Wisconsin. "Although intentionally pointing a firearm at another constitutes a violation of s. 941.20, under sub. (1) a person is privileged to point a gun at another person in self-defense if the person reasonably believes that the threat of force is necessary to prevent or terminate what he or she reasonably believes to be an unlawful interference. State v. Watkins, 2002 WI 101, 255 Wis. 2d 265, 647 N.W.2d 244, 00-0064" docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/939.48 – D M Feb 27 at 18:20
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    You would think that in any situation where it is legal to shoot and kill a person, it would be legal to do a much less harmful thing like threatening them. – gnasher729 Mar 1 at 21:10

Do not point your gun at anyone or anything if you are not willing to accept the responsibility, and legal consequences, if you pull the trigger. This is the very first rule of gun safety. I will repeat this often in my answer because it bears repeating often.

So, for existing law:

DC v. Heller determined that the Second Amendment allows for the defense of oneself on one's own property. As a general rule, this holds IFF the only conditions are met: 1. The person is an intruder in your home. 2. You cannot safely flee your home.

In most states, condition 2 is dropped (Only Vermont and D.C. which have no law, require condition 2 in theory... case law will determine the outcome.). You need not prove that the intruder is about to commit a felony on you, only that you were within reason to attack that person. Per your questioned states: North Carolina has an explicit carve out for Police and Bail Bondsmen acting with lawful authority and who are complying with all laws.

With all Castle Laws, if you invite the person you pull the gun on into your house then they are not their aggressively (at least, until they are asked or intend to leave. Certainly a 3 am entry by your neighbor is unlawful if he left at 10pm).

North Carolina and Tennessee are also "Stand-Your-Ground" States, which allow for deadly self-defense of yourself or another if you are not an aggressor and are not acting in an unlawful manor and not engaged in trespassing. In other states, they usually require a duty to flee in public settings before you can use lethal force for self-defense (i.e. If you can get away safely from the criminal, you should do so first. Otherwise, you can use lethal force.).

In any case where the person you pull a gun on is not an aggressor and not reasonably indicating they are committing a crime, pulling a gun on someone is considered assault with deadly weapon. Even if you do not fire... even if it's a toy realistic gun with the orange safety cap taken off or not visible... even if it looks like a gun and the guy cannot tell.

In your initial case, it would be an illegal use of your gun because you have not provided me with any evidence that the person was in your house because of trespass or that they were reasonably committing an illegal act (This is technically only. I need you to show me that this person is on your property without your authorization).

In your first variation, again, if you can prove that the above scenario was legal, threaten to shoot him is fine. You are defending yourself against him and his actions. You need not kill a criminal to defend yourself. It may actually help your case if he still decides to act even with this warning.

In the second variation, again it depends. A few states extend Castle Doctrine to your car, so if you are broken down on a public the highway and need to defend yourself from unlawful entry to your vehicle, the same rules apply if you are inside your car. If you are on your private property and the morning jogger is your target, you need to make sure he is reasonably threatening you or another person. Depending on the nature this will apply to Castle Doctrine or Stand-Your-Ground, though if he's coming at you while you are on your property, the former may apply. If he is going for the neighbor I would err to the latter. Needs more detail.

In your final situation, NC and TN are both Stand-Your-Ground so presuming you are not the aggressor those rules apply.

If the gun holder can not reasonably prove his claim to self-defense, pointing a gun at a person is Assault even if the gun could never fire a bullet (it's not loaded, it's broken, it's a realistic toy and the orange tip on the barrel was removed or not visible to the guy you point it at.). If you fired it could be Murder if the guy dies.

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    Please remove the unnecessary capslock and repetition of the first paragraph. It's not useful the first time let alone the third and fourth. – Nij Feb 28 at 5:17
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    @DukeZhou: In the first case, if you knew it was unloaded at the time, it doesn't count. Only if your friend did not tell you that. You should never assume a gun is unloaded unless you personally ensure it is. Even then, that's a grossly not funny. In the second case, that's also very dangerous behavior and I don't know if it's illegal, though I wouldn't say you're wrong if you called the cops and reported it. If at any time you don't feel safe with someone else's firearms use, you should leave (assuming he's not telling you to stay while waving it around). – hszmv Mar 1 at 18:37
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    @hszmv I don't care about the legality, but I was taught (as a child at camp) not to point a gun, loaded or unloaded, at any individual unless you're planning to use it. For the record, it's an extremely uncomfortable feeling having a gun pointed at you, even if you know it's not loaded and the chamber is empty. It greatly calls into question the maturity, and suitability of firearms ownership, for individuals inclined to engage in such behaviors. – DukeZhou Mar 1 at 18:54
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    If your friend is stupid enough to point an empty gun at you "as a fun joke", then you shouldn't be surprised if your friend is stupid enough to pull the trigger, and then it turns out the gun wasn't empty at all like your stupid friend thought. – gnasher729 Mar 1 at 21:15
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    @DukeZhou: That falls under the power of the states to regulate, not the Federal Government. Many of the laws gun control advocates advocate for are actually have this same legal hurdle to jump through. – hszmv Dec 4 at 20:49

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