The More you Know: Another word from our legal guru


LESSON #2:  While it is normal to modify your self-defense gun to improve your shooting abilities, it can be used against you in court and hurt your chances of success in a self-defense case.

You have a God-given, Constitutional right to project yourself by any means, including deadly force, if justified. You can use ANYTHING (gun, hammer, sword, keys etc) to get the job done.  But when it comes to the gun you choose to use as your concealed weapon or for home defense, you need to be practical about any after-market modifications. Try to stay “out of the box” as much as possible and don’t make it look “scary.”  It can and will be used against you.    

Just like any hobby, most gun enthusiasts like to personalize their stuff. If a weapon does not fit our hand size, eyesight, stance, etc. we make modifications to maximize performance, recoil management, and improve concealment.  The most common are triggers, optics and aesthetic designs.  While this is all fine, keep in mind that these changes may have legal ramifications.  

             If you’re involved in a shooting and have to go to trial to prove justifiable self-defense, the state’s #1 evidence will be the gun itself.  The police will confiscate your firearm and it will be “tagged and bagged” to be later introduced in court.   The prosecutors will hire experts to paint a picture of you as a “blood thirsty” predator, lying in wait for the opportunity to kill. Inevitably, the word “premeditation” will be thrown around the courtroom.

During the Michael Dunn trial (shooting at the gas station in Jacksonville, FL, over an argument over loud music) the prosecution spent almost an entire day on evidence pertaining to his so-called “hair trigger” (he simply reduced the weight pull on his 9 mm).  They made it sound like full auto, able to send 8-10 deadly rockets with one simple pull of the trigger in mere seconds.  While the type of gun used is irrelevant and has absolutely nothing to do with determining the validity of a self-defense claim, it was used as proof of guilt.

Likewise, in the George Zimmerman trial, the prosecutor dramatically argued in closing that an innocent “child”, Trayvon Martin, who was merely skipping down the street after buying candy, was “maliciously murdered” by Mr. Zimmerman because not only was he carrying a gun (heaven forbid!), it had a “round in the chamber, in the ready to fire position.”  Although this does not specifically deal with modifications, it is a prime example of how aggressively they will make you look like the bad guy.  Even though the way he carried has no bearing whether he was justified in his actions, it was a focal point of the trial.

So why can’t I simply explain to a jury why I modified?  It was only to make me a better shooter. I’m a decent guy – I’m sure the jury will hear my side and understand.”  Sure, you can address the jury. But keep in mind that these people are not your fellow 2A, like-minded folks.  The average juror has never touched a firearm and most likely hates guns:  “I think all guns should have a fingerprint lock and only 2 rounds” (actual quote from a woman on a jury panel).  You will also need to hire experts to explain your side, which will tack on tens of thousands in extra costs.

I understand this advice is not popular, but it’s reality. If the deck is already stacked against you, it makes you work harder to tip the scales of justice in your favor. Prosecutors have wide latitude in making inflammatory arguments.  While a defense attorney can push to keep it out of court, it’s usually allowed.  The burden then switches over to you to present your defense and let fate deal the cards.  So be aware that you could face some ridiculous stuff that you didn’t expect.  Here are some actual quotes from overzealous prosecutors in the courtroom:

  • A “hair trigger” causes someone to act impulsively
  • The gun was “modified” to hold more ammo
  • A laser is not needed for indoors; this is used for “hunting” (it was a revolver) 
  • The gun light was used to “blind” the victim, thereby putting him at a disadvantage
  • Hollow point bullets are intended for murder
  • He had a “scoped” AR-15 rifle with “an extended, large capacity magazine”
  • An AK-47 is “explosive”
  • He used a “high caliber” rifle with a “sniper scope” (because only snipers use scopes)
  • He carried a revolver in his pocket, obviously wanting a fight
  • There is no lawful purpose for driving around with that type of rifle up on a rack in your truck (despite the fact that this is perfectly legal for long guns in Florida and self-defense is, in fact, a lawful purpose).

Most jurors are naïve and will believe that a basic gun is an “evil death machine.”  I defended a case where an elderly, disabled guy shot his wife with a 44 magnum with a laser. He claimed the wife was going for the gun during a fight and he grabbed it and shot her in self-defense. The prosecutor sashayed up to the jury box and ceremoniously waived it back and forth (picture Vanna White) while audible gasps filled the air.  Despite my objection over the theatrics, the damage was done and the collective furrowed brows showed their minds were made up. The way a firearm looks can be very powerful.  

While simple trigger adjustment and fiber optic sights may be fine, you need to rethink big attachments or etching a punisher skull or “I don’t call 911!” on the side of your firearm. Save it for t-shirts and caps.  If you ever find yourself in front of a jury, sheepishly looking humble, shoulders sagging, anxiously awaiting your fate…you don’t want your firearm to speak louder than you do.

Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice. All states have different laws.  If you are curious about your state’s laws, it is in your best interest to speak to a skilled criminal defense attorney in your area. 

I am a licensed Florida attorney with over 15 years of experience in criminal law, as both a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney.  Self-defense and conceal carry laws are very complicated and confusing.  I have seen good people go down for being uneducated, assuming that what they are doing is right.  One mistake can costs you thousands in legal fees, bail money and expenses, and possibly prison.   Learn how to use your firearm and when to use it.   Be smart, educate yourself, and stay humble.  Pride and ignorance are very expensive! 

Shannon Posada, Esq.