Riot control legalities.

Assume a legally reasonable US state and an on-going violent riot…

Defender faces a crowd of several hundred advancing on a residential property above a storefront. Crowd already demonstrated violent behavior, has visible melee weapons and incendiaries but no visible ranged weapons. Would it be legal to:

  1. Fire large birdshot to hit the entire mob at a hundred yards for less lethal effect?
  2. Fire buckshot to hit a substantial part of the mob at twenty yards?
  3. Fire slug (or rifle bullet) to hit an individual with an incendiary device at a hundred yards? at twenty yards?

Main legal question are:

  • Less lethal deterrent by private parties rather than police?
  • Hitting everyone in a mob rather than aiming at specific individuals?
  • Firing at extended range to avoid being rushed and overwhelmed by sheer numbers?
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55 Responses to Riot control legalities.

  1. Trey Owens says:

    I think that before you did any of the above you would need to prove:

    1. That you were trapped or surrounded and had no way to escape
    2. That you knew for certain that the mob was coming for YOUR building and not another one nearby (i.e. just passing by your building)

    • Oleg Volk says:

      1. That’s why I specified residence above a business: can’t run and leave kids and elders behind. Also, legally reasonable state specified, no duty to retreat.
      2. Standalone building.

      • Ron W says:

        And like in Baltimore, if the police have been ordered to “stand down” then the authorities have refused their duty to enforce the law to maintain order and citizen protection thus turning things over to citizens to “take the law into their hands”.

    • Randy says:

      1. Many states thats not necessary. Even in states without firm castle doctrine, fear for life and reasonable fear flight is impossible would work.

      2. Not sure it matters. In many areas, stopping the commission of a felony (arson, rioting, looting, may or may not fall into felony territory) is legally safe grounds. If you know the building being targeted is inhabited, then it becomes defense of another, also grounds in many areas.

    • William Elliott says:

      Personally, I do not think you have ANY duty to retreat, either from your private residence or any property under your control where you are legally allowed to be. Screw the surrounded stuff, someone is obviously planning to do someone else physical harm [assault/attack them], and though you have no duty, you sure as hell have moral grounds to defend someone elses life. There is no “I was just holding the Molatov for someone else” bullcrap.

  2. Don says:

    I am not a lawyer.
    My location is Indianapolis, which, thank Heaven, is far removed from Baltimore,
    attitudinally and distance wise.
    But, if faced with such a situation, my intent will be to turn the crowd. I feel one
    does that by killing the identifiable leader(s). My perimeter is going to be one-
    hundred yards. The rifle will be my weapon of choice. The shotgun is strictly a
    last ditch CQB weapon. I’ll sort the legalities out after the dust has settled. If the
    ”public officials” can’t prevent the situation, the Hell with them. I’ll take care of
    my defense and that of my neighborhood as I see fit.

    • Walter Daniels says:

      I would _start_ with a loudspeaker warning. Continuing until shotgun range (~10 meters). Final announcement is “anyone holding a lit firebomb, will be permanently stopped.” Anyone, in the approaching crowd, holding/showing a firearm, will get a warning at *~50 meters.*
      I would also make sure that I videotaped everything. At 9.5 meters, it becomes a “stop the leaders” event. Stop being defined as shoot Center of Mass. If using a shotgun, my preference is lower body at 5 to 9 Meters distances. Under 5 Meters, it’s center of body.

  3. curt says:

    I think number one is a bad idea, using a firearm is universally considered lethal force. I’m not a layer but my understanding is that only the individuals who represent an immediate threat to you or your property can be met with lethal force. Admittedly this is somewhat difficult to determine since who in an angry mob constitutes can likely be debated endlessly (likely by your defense lawyer should this happen). Overall it seams like a no win situation if the crowd lacked molotov cocktails i think it would be a much simpler since you could easily justify use of force against any one who forced their way in. Again this is a layman’s opinion and i’d welcome any counter-pints

    • Bad Dude says:

      All you have to prove is that you were in fear of your life and you feared death or serious bodily injury as the result of being assaulted/killed by a riotous, rampaging mob. Pretty easy to articulate for even a novice lawyer.

      Plus, consider the fact that 99.9% of insurance policies don’t cover damage by riots and that police don’t get involved in protecting property, businesses, homes, or anyone in the way of a rampaging mob. They just stand back and watch most of the time. It’s sad that they’re more worried about rioters feelings and being portrayed in a negative manner by the media, than controlling these animals and maintaining order.

  4. Ross says:

    I’m with Don on this, 100 yard perimeter, dust any and all identifiable leaders, if the crowd didn’t turn………. well then I sure would be glad the spent stupid money on my Ares MCR.

  5. Arfin Greebly says:

    If you’re in a residence above a shop and there are rioters torching things along the street, a “reasonable man” standard dictates that you defend your position.

    The actual tactics and weaponry may vary. For example, since I own a carbine but not a shotgun, I’d be bounded by a different set of ballistic realities.

    Another point here is that you really don’t want to be doing this alone.

  6. Gerry says:

    In KY you may use deadly force in defense of arson. Other than that you are in a grey area if you can not prove a direct threat against your person or others. Property destruction will not pass the test for lethal force and shooting a firearm at people is deadly force. Saying that, you might never get indicted by the grand jury for those actions even is the states attorney brought charges. Shooting birdshot to wound or disperse a crowd would also probably a poor idea.

    I will state I am not a lawyer or staying at a Holiday Inn Express. Just my opinion.

    • Ray says:

      The KRS states that you have the right to use deadly force; “In any place you have a legal right to be” in order to; “Protect yourself OR ANOTHER from death or grievous bodily harm” You can defend your home or car/truck /SUV and are under no obligation to retreat. Further the new “stand your ground” law says that if you believe the person or persons confronting you unlawfully are ABOUT to attack you may use deadly force. The only standard is that you must be in fear of “death or grievous injury” for “yourself or another” . It says nothing specific about arson in the KRS SD law. Having said that; I would consider an armed mob to be about to attack me if they were coming down the street looting and burning, and would not hesitate for a second to start stacking up dead body’s until they broke and ran, or I ran out of ammo.

      • Russ says:

        KRS 503.080 (2)(c) Committing or attempting to commit arson of a dwelling or other building in his possession.

        Took me a couple minutes to find it, but it’s still there.

  7. Jim says:

    I’m with Don. Living in Florida has some advantages as a stand your ground state.
    Anyone with a visible firearm would be first, second the Molotov throwers before they get too close and lastly anyone coming through the door uninvited.

  8. Garrett Lee says:

    If I only had a shotgun, I think my first shot (with shot, not slug) would be into the pavement right in front of the approaching mob, with the intent of causing a bunch of stones to ricochet into the crowd at knee level. That’s my opinion, at least.

    • Bad Dude says:

      You only discharge a firearm to protect the lives of yourself or others. You are responsible for every round that leaves your weapon. Warning shots are not allowed in most states and usually end up as evidence for the prosecution that you’re reckless in handling of your firearm.

      When you start dropping these dangerous criminals, they will take due notice and retreat. Problem solved.

  9. divemedic says:

    Varies state to state. In Florida:
    776.012 (2) A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be. (emphasis added)

    So what is a forcible felony? Florida law says:

    776.08 “Forcible felony” means treason; murder; manslaughter; sexual battery; carjacking; home-invasion robbery; robbery; burglary; arson; kidnapping; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; aggravated stalking; aircraft piracy; unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual. (again, emphasis added)

    So, any person who is a member of and participant in a group engaged in civil unrest where violence against persons and arson is being carried out by the members of that group, I would say that deadly force is justified, especially if they are carrying incendiary devices or any other visible weapons.

  10. Michael D says:

    Georgia is similar:

    Georgia Code Annotated (G.C.A.)

    Title 16. Crimes and Offenses

    Chapter 3. Defenses to Criminal Prosecutions.

    16-3-23.1. No duty to retreat prior to use of force in self-defense

    A person who uses threats or force in accordance with Code Section 16-3-21, relating to the use of force in defense of self or others, Code Section 16-3-23, relating to the use of force in defense of a habitation, or Code Section 16-3-24, relating to the use of force in defense of property other than a habitation, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and use force as provided in said Code sections, including deadly force.

  11. Hugh Davis says:

    So first and foremost there is no such thing under the laws I am familiar with as a warning shot. So shoot to kill, not scare. For less lethal to be less lethal you would need to shoot with something like rubber buckshot or bean bags.

    Second, would a reasonable person agree that the mob has the ability to burn your residence to the ground with you in it? I think that since there is an ongoing riot with arson the answer is yes.

    Third, do they have the proximity to do so? This is where drawing the lines in the sand so to speak become blurred. At 100 yards can they throw an incendiary device and catch your store and apartment on fire? Probably not. At 20 yards they probably can. So somewhere between 100 yards and 20 yards (maybe 50 yards) it would be justifiable to nail them with a shotgun.

    Fourth, has the mob expressed their desire to burn your particular store and apartment down? This is where it becomes tricky. If you are the only white shop owner left and they approach chanting burn the whitey out then they have expressed their intent. If they are just a mob moving along the street then they have not. Fill in jew, korean, whatever ethnic group you want here.

    Fifth, I would argue that a reasonable person would understand that a mob should be treated as a single entity and not as a collection of individuals who have to be treated separately. That being said the area you live in has a lot to do with what is reasonable and what is not. Therefore if you can target the individual with the Molotov cocktail using a slug and not harm the bevy of choir boys around him (note my sexist assumption that its young men who are rioting) then its probably more cut and dried.

    • divemedic says:

      I disagree, at least under Florida law (which is where I live) The law says that a person may use lethal force to stop the imminent commission of a forcible felony. That means that under the letter of the law, a person in a crowd who is throwing Molotov cocktails, destroying businesses, and participating in any violent crime which is likely to cause someone bodily injury is committing a forcible felony, and may be engaged with lethal force, if you reasonably believe that lethal force is needed to stop them from committing that act. There is no requirement under the law that the person using the force must himself be in danger, just that the forcible felony be imminent.

      The way I read this, if a person is 1,000 yards away from you, but 30 feet from the orphanage and preparing to throw that incendiary through the front window, you are free to take the shot with your .338 Lapua.
      Of course, as George Zimmerman found out, just because you are within the letter of the law, you can still have your life ruined by the trial and subsequent legal expenses, but I guess that is a completely different argument.

  12. Paul Rain says:

    Whether it’s legal or not is irrelevant today- you know that you will still have your life ruined regardless.

    If you can hear the mob at night when you sit out on your front porch, that’s the government and their NGO allies telling you that you’ve already lost your neighborhood. Either get ready for revolution, or move somewhere safer, with good schools.

  13. ctd says:

    Summarized criteria (per Ayoob et al):
    Ability, opportunity, jeopardy.

    Do they (acting together practically as a unit) have the ability to cause lethal harm? ranged & area-of-effect weapons, plus other weapons as evaluated in each case.
    Do they have the opportunity to cause lethal harm? as in immediate application, or within a very short time whereby once the action begins, you have no practical opportunity to escape/stop harm.
    Are they putting you/others in jeopardy? would a reasonable person conclude grave harm is, in light of the other two points, imminent.

    An armed angry mob moving down the street, attacking anyone in their path, setting random fires, heading directly toward you & yours, sure sounds sufficient. Stop those with ranged/area weapons; avoid others (though someone can remind me legal quotes about members of a mob being responsible for the whole).

  14. Awtha says:

    Back in the 80′ & 90’s the armored car flunkies (me) were trained to disperse the crowd & make them want to go somewhere else. Placing the buckshot about two feet on the ground to scatter into their ankles \ legs. He who holds the molotov cocktail is the 1st one to drop. . . . . Now, of course you can always take VP Biden’s advise “if you want to keep someone away from your house, just fire the shotgun through the door.”
    Yeah, that’ll do it.

  15. divemedic says:

    More importantly, I now have an excuse to get me one of these crowd control devices:

  16. Will says:

    Stay away from using less-than-lethal ammo in a gun of any sort. It can still kill, and you don\’t have a cop\’s legal and insurance coverage.

    A possible advantage to a shotgun is ballistics tests are mostly a moot point, even with slugs. Find out what the local cops use for ammo, so you can blend in with their possible actions.

    Stay away from birdshot. Not a good fight stopper beyond close contact distances, if even that. You may just end up maiming people, like taking out eyes at a distance. This is bad PR for your location. You want people ON THE GROUND after hitting them. Otherwise, their fellow rioters won\’t know they have come to THE WRONG PLACE.

    First target is people with rifles/shotguns, followed by handguns. Then anyone with a container that looks like a potential firebomb. Also, target any container that could be filled with fuel. Drop the holder, then puncture the can, although a large can could be aimed at first, it you think you can hit it while it\’s being carried.
    Reverse the target order to firebombs first, if the crowd is within stone throwing distance of their target. It is easier to hit a building with a bottle, and generally harder to target individuals with gunfire, especially from a traveling group.

    Bare in mind that the bottle throwing people can run quite quickly to a close position, so don\’t be too slow to shoot at a distance that keeps them away from their target.

    Generally, the laws allow you to use lethal force to stop arson OF OCCUPIED STRUCTURES. You don\’t have to verify the occupancy. This would probably apply to trapped vehicles, also.
    An equipment shed may not apply, but a home, business, or office that may potentially be inhabited fits the bill.

    Remember, there are no innocents in a riot group/gang.
    There may be idiots who are playing tourists on the sidelines, along with media, and they all have cameras, so try not to be obvious. Don\’t wear identifiable gear or clothing. Pick justifiable targets, and don\’t fire indiscriminately. (you can hit your target, yes?)
    You are not required to make yourself a visible target to any of these clowns coming down the street. You don\’t need to give verbal warning in a lethal confrontation. They know what they are doing is wrong.

  17. Pingback: SayUncle » So, there’s these riots in Baltimore

  18. Sigivald says:

    It’ll be awfully hard to show imminent felony or harm at 100 yards, especially i there are other potential targets on the block.

    Now, someone starts actually throwing firebombs, that’s another matter, but that’s also much closer.

    With nobody showing a ranged weapon, self-defense will also be very, very hard to demonstrate to a jury, even at 30 yards, from someone in an above-ground-level dwelling.

    The private use of arms in a riot, from a raised position, is best limited to deterrence (and it’s damned good at it), until there’s a direct attack.

    I mean, unless you like going to prison and losing a civil rights suit.

    • Will says:

      This is wrong. Ayoob had a jury case tossed when he showed a video of him shooting a 6 shot snubbie at a 100 yd range and putting all 6 rnds into a silhouette target. (The defendant was charged with murder for using a rifle against a person at less than 50 yds armed with that model of handgun.) Hell, I can essentially do headshots at 40 yds with a 2″ DAO .38 snubbie.
      Basically, if you can see a gun, then consider that you are within range of that weapon. Period.

    • Y. says:

      Would the Koreans get away with what they did in LA back then today?

  19. Mike Fletcher says:

    there is a reason they don’t pull that crap in Texas or

  20. David E says:

    As someone who uses LTL weapons daily, for the homeowner, BAD idea to try to use a lethal weapon in a LTL capacity. Our LTL shotguns carry #7 steel shot, at lower extremities, no closer than 25 yards, which then changes it lethal force. For an individual defender, to open yourself up to that liability, without the legal defense of the Dept, bad idea. Admittedly, in the heat of the moment, you may not think of that. The shotgun can be an area denial weapon, but how many avenues of attack does a mob have on a building with just one defender on the roof? If lethal force is employed, it has a frightening potential to go VERY south very quickly, no matter how justified. I can say this in cold sober reflection in my living room, not in the thick of it, so I cannot accurately predict what even I may actually do in that very situation, but I think I would look for the first subject actively bringing my residence under fire, and then act to stop that threat. The crowd may go coward, or it may go berserk. If the latter, Katy bar the door, hope you have plenty of reloads and the windows are blocked.
    One odd little suggestion I would have is pepper spray…no, not trying to get down in front of them and hose them. Get a fogger, (available online), and toss it in front of them. Then puncture the can….No, never tried it, just a thought…

  21. NTS says:

    Um, killing looters remains one of the legal forms of homicide, even in California. Just don’t discuss that too much-the legislature has way too much time on its hands.

  22. Braden Lynch says:

    Since Molotov cocktails and arson are indiscriminate, you can be in danger even if they are torching houses down the block since the firetrucks are not going to be coming.

    For me, anyone carrying a Molotov cocktail is fair game, even at a distance, even here in California.

    Curious, did any of the Korean shopkeepers in the L.A. riots ever get in trouble? Did they fire their weapons? Did they shoot anybody? I just know they were visibly on rooftops, but did that turn the rioters away?

    • Will says:

      Don’t wait until they light it to consider it a threat. ANY hand held container should be considered a threat. If you wait until you can determine it is a glass container, you are too late because they are too close. Well, unless you are using a spotting scope.

      Bear in mind that there are ways to set up chemical and battery igniters, so the lack of a rag doesn’t indicate a safe object.

    • Rene D. says:

      Curious, did any of the Korean shopkeepers in the L.A. riots ever get in trouble?


      Did they fire their weapons?


      Did they shoot anybody?


      Here’s a link ( to an article reviewing each of the fatalities in the L.A. riots. Search for Korea in the article. It turns out the Koreans were poor marksman and had trouble identifying friend from foe.

      There are at least 2 articles published in a medical journal discussing gunshot wounds treated at county hospitals during and following the riots, but they’re behind a paywall. So, I don’t know if the Koreans ever hit any of the rioters.

      • Braden Lynch says:

        Thanks, that was enlightening. It does look like there were several cases of friendly fire deaths. It’s hard to known if that balances out the damage and possible deaths that arson in the area might have inflicted.

  23. Joey Burke says:

    Indiscriminately firing a shotgun into a crowd/mob at anything under personal threat distance is going to get you jailed in any jurisdiction, at least any jurisdiction where this situation is likely to occur. Have your lawyer on speed dial.
    Prosecutor and/or jury might be kind, but that’s not something I’d care to bank on.

  24. revjen45 says:

    If you are using a fowling piece and you shoot from a position back from a window it may be hard to prove who fired the shot(s) that hit the advancing Orcs. I’m just glad we live in a semi-rural area where such shenanigans have a likliehood of infinitescimal.

    • Y. says:

      If there are two men on a roof with, side by side shotguns, and one fires a warning shot(identical ammo) into the turf, and one improves the gene pool, is there a way to pin murder on either of them if no one confesses?

      Germans could not convict an identical twin , burglary as there was just DNA evidence.

      If all there is is ballistics, and it’s inconclusive?

  25. staghounds says:

    As far as I know there’s only been one instance of people in the U. S. being criminally charged for shooting into an angry mob and killing someone- Ossian Sweet.

    And he was not convicted.

  26. Ron W says:

    So when a government has ordered a “stand down” of law enforcement, then they are going to enforce the law against someone exercising self defense?? If so, then there are the common criminals and the legalized version.

  27. Kristophr says:

    Police doctrine for shotguns and riots is to aim low to avoid creating martyrs … but you are not a policeman, are not part of a large unit.

    IANAL*, but in most states ( including the one I live in ), if a reasonable and prudent person would think your life is in danger, you can shoot to stop the danger.

    I suggest shooting the loudmouths that are whipping up the crowd first, to stop them.

    *( iANAL = Apple’s worst gadget )

  28. Andy says:


    Molotov Cocktails are Destructive Devices with the tax stamp, recordkeeping and headache requirements thereof. Arson is a felony. It’s legal to use lethal force to prevent felons committing a felony crime.

    That said:
    1: Birdshot is for little birds. Shotguns are deadly weapons. Bringing a deadly weapon into play you’d damn well better be intending to stop the threat. (Stupid “But why didn’t you shoot them in the leg” argument rebuttal applies.)
    2: Have a good lawyer: Legal-ish, but looks horrible in court.
    3: Depends. Long range, not generally; unless you’re seeing them throw MCs and they have one in their hand still, but short range after seeing them commit a felony (Or where a disinterested third party could reasonably see that they’re intending to commit one) then yes.

    It’s a subset of Concealed Carry laws and protections. Ask a lawyer.

  29. Brandon says:

    Fortunately Texas has this covered. Combination of 2A: Prevent Damage and 3B) Less than lethal force would get you killed against 100 rioters. We take protection of property seriously in this state.


    A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect land or tangible, movable property:
    (1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.41; and
    (2) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary:
    (A) to prevent the other’s imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime; or
    (B) to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property; and
    (3) he reasonably believes that:
    (A) the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means; or
    (B) the use of force other than deadly force to protect or recover the land or property would expose the actor or another to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.

  30. MAJMike says:

    Grapeshot/canister from a 3-inch Ordnance Rifle. Worked for George Meade.

  31. TCHall says:

    I’m with that 100 yard perimeter. Or the other side of the street. Incendiary devices can take out tanks, there would be a necessity to keep them well back from my residence.

    That said I’d most certainly target the “equipment” posing a threat. Shooting at bottles at 100 yards is something my kids do for fun with their open sight Mosin Nagants…

    A miss is collateral damage, and a hit would be a spectacular bit of discouragement for anyone else holding a similar weapon.

    Not a lawyer and living with a 100 perimeter giving a clear field of fire in all directions.

    • Will says:

      Don’t expect to see them walking around with flaming rags in a bottle. Generally, it gets lit just prior to being tossed.
      Containers in hand is what to look for. I suppose you could ignore one’s they are drinking from, but how do you keep track of that in a randomly moving, active crowd?

  32. Scott Wilson says:

    I wouldn’t concern myself with legalities if hundreds of violent rioters were coming for me.

    Shot placement would be my focus.

  33. Jack D Ripper says:

    MY advice?
    “anyone or anything that approaches within 200 yards of the perimeter is to be fired upon”
    – Colonel Jack D. Ripper, ” Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964).

  34. hist_ed says:

    Almost all the comments above are general. State laws are specific. Anyone who is prepared to be in a defensive gun situation should know the laws of their state. They vary a lot. What is an ok defensive shoot in one state is a crime in others. If you really need to know, then talk to an attorney that has worked defensive shootings.
    That said it is likely that the law is simply not clear in many states. It just depends on the jury (or sometimes judge).

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