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Because of recent news about the Kenosha shootings, and people claiming the shooter might walk free because he can claim self-defense, I've started wondering this question. I've seen pictures of another person having been shot in the arm, holding a gun. To me it seems like, if that person who got shot in the arm would have killed Kyle Rittenhouse, he could just as easily have claimed "self defense".

This brings me to the question: if person A gets provoked / threatened by person B, causing A to shoot B in legitimate self-defense (regardless of if this was the case in the Kenosha shootings), if this then makes person C feel threatened, if then A and C end up in a standoff aiming their gun at the other, would then both people have a legitimate case if they claim self-defense for shooting the other, or not?

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    Note: Rittenhouse was fleeing and was accosted by the man with the gun. The man with the gun cannot claim self defense as he engaged a fleeing Rittenhouse (who had fallen to the ground and came under attack again), and has allegedly stated his regret at not "emptying the gun" into Rittenhouse. You have a good question, I just want to clarify that the Kenosha "other man with a gun" example is not a good example of self defense...or so it appears at this moment. – acpilot Sep 3 at 17:38
  • I am not actually asking about what happened in the Kenosha shootings. They just made me wonder what would happen, if the situation I mentioned would happen. I have seen enough people both for and against Rittenhouse acting in self-defense that I don't want to open that can of worms, really, I just want to know what would happen in a standoff. – Joeytje50 Sep 3 at 20:10
  • @Joeytje50 if didn't want to open that can of worms, then why did you open it? You set the context of the question. – grovkin Sep 7 at 16:43
  • @grovkin I guess so; I just mentioned that as an example case where my question originated from. In the Kenosha case there are of course a lot of other factors such as the fact Rittenhouse was under 18 that make the case a lot less straightforward, though, so that's why I only mentioned that case as the inspiration, and then used that to set up my actual question. I guess my wording of 'not wanting to open that can of worms' wasn't really what I meant. I just meant I didn't really intend to discuss the different sides of that specific case. – Joeytje50 Sep 8 at 15:14
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    @acpilot Rittenhouse was fleeing after shooting someone. All that his pursuers knew, presumably, was that this armed gunman had just killed someone, and they were trying to stop him from getting away or killing more people. The question of self-defense is not nearly as clear-cut as your comment makes it seem. – Rivers McForge Sep 15 at 17:44
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Rules about self-defense in the US vary from state to state, but generally a person can raise a defense that they legally used deadly self-defense if they had a reasonable fear of death or grievous bodily harm, with some exceptions (exactly how these are worded changes from state to state):

  1. A person often cannot claim self defense if they are already committing a forcible felony (but it depends on the circumstances)
  2. A person cannot claim self defense if they are the aggressor in a fight or took aggressive actions toward another person who then attacked them.

So, with that in mind, let's assume that Person A has a valid deadly self-defense claim against Person B. When considering self defense, the question is whether a reasonable person in the defendant's position would have feared death or grievous bodily harm. So, the exact sequence of events matters. Consider the following four scenarios:

C watches B attack A and then A shoots B, C pulls out his gun and points it at A before A turns to him and points his gun in response

C watches B attack A and then A shoots B, A then points his gun at C and C pulls out his gun in response

C doesn't see B attack A and only sees A shoot B, C pulls out his gun and they stand off

C doesn't see B attack A and only sees A shoot B, A then points his gun at C and C pulls his in response

In some of these situations, A may be considered the aggressor against C even though he had a valid self-defense claim against B. In others, a jury may find that a reasonable person in C's position would not expect A to shoot them just because they shot an attacker, and therefore C is the aggressor by drawing on A. This all assumes a hypothetical where these people exist in a void, things like their relationship, the situation around the three subjects, and any other relevant facts could be introduced and considered in the analysis. In theory, a situation could exist where both sides have a valid self-defense claim against each other, the third example possibly being that situation.

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    Thanks for this clear explanation! The situation I most envisioned when writing this question was the third one you described. The other example situations you described are also interesting to think about though. I feel like all four of those situations could reasonably happen in some situations, especially in the heat of the moment. Of course you make a good point that context is relevant, but it's still interesting to think about. Thanks for your answer! I'm gonna leave the bounty on this for a short while more in case others have other insights they want to share, but otherwise it's yours. – Joeytje50 Sep 8 at 15:11
  • A person cannot claim self defense if they are already committing a felony -- that's not true: law.stackexchange.com/questions/55781 – MaxB Sep 15 at 2:45
  • @MaxB The accepted answer states that successfully claiming self defence is much much harder in that situation. – gnasher729 Sep 15 at 18:39
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    @gnasher729 I changed my sentence in response to his comment to allow that it doesn't always preclude it, so his comment was correct for the original sentence I think. – IllusiveBrian Sep 15 at 18:54
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Yes.

if this then makes person C feel threatened, if then A and C end up in a standoff aiming their gun at the other, would then both people have a legitimate case if they claim self-defense for shooting the other, or not?

For a legitimate self-defense case one needs to "reasonably believe that he or she is ... in imminent danger of death or serious injury".

When someone clearly aims a gun at you, you surely can "reasonably believe" to be in "imminent danger of death or serious injury". Therefore, unless the person aiming gun at you is deemed to be doing it lawfully (e.g. a police officer, a home owner protecting themselves of your aggressive and illegal invasion etc.) you can use deadly force to defend yourself e.g. shoot.

This is just as simple as that. The fact that both A and C stand and point their guns at each other changes nothing — both have equal rights. The fact that C has witnessed A shooting B also changes nothing apart from adding some extra reasonableness to C's belief to be in imminent danger.

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    I object to your implied claim that the mere fact that the holder of the gun is a police officer is sufficient to establish that their actions are lawful. – Acccumulation Sep 15 at 18:44
  • @Acccumulation Fair enough, but the reality is that if a police officer is pointing a gun at you, you can't just shoot him and claim self-defense. – Greendrake Sep 15 at 22:11
  • If you just watched the police officer shooting an unarmed person and now he is pointing a gun at you, that’s probably self defense. Convincing a court is a different matter. – gnasher729 Sep 16 at 10:32

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