First, a disclaimer: we’re enthusiastic about this book, and more generally about attorney Andrew Branca’s message: You carry a gun so you’re hard to kill. Know the law so you’re hard to convict. We’re enthusiastic enough to have bought several books, attended a live seminar, and signed up for his instructor program even though we’re not teaching presently. (After looking at the targets from yesterday’s range session, that’s A Good Thing; we got pretty rusty over the winter).
We have in the past reviewed Branca’s The Law of Self Defense in these pages, but this week we received the new Third Edition. We have spent some quality time with it (only some of it spent sleeping curled up in a recliner with the book and Small Dog) and have read the first half through (the second half is by-state tables of law). If you think you might be interested in this book, you probably want to know the answers to some key questions: “How is it changed? Do I have to buy it to replace my Second Edition? Would it make a good gift for a new self-defense gun owner? Will an experienced gun owner learn anything from it? Is it too lawyerly for a novice?”
Let’s dispose of the last question first, and work our way up:
Is it too lawyerly?
Definitely not. Andrew writes with an easy, conversational tone and his explanations of complicated legal issues are clear and comprehensible for anyone.
Moreover, the advice he gives is largely grounded in his real world of the trial court, where law consists not only of the black letter of the statute itself, but also of the established conventions of the law: case-law precedents (what juries and judges have done before), and jury instructions (what exact issues the judge allows the jury to decide, and what he tells them about the law). So you could probably say it’s just “lawyerly” enough, and it’s vastly better than relying on some non-lawyer’s (like, ours, or yours) reading a statute off a website, when the actual plain English meaning of the law might have been turned topsy-turvy by case law precedent.
Will I learn anything from it?
Certainly, even if you are an experienced carrier and a careful reader of self-defense news. In fact, even if you’re a defense attorney like Andrew, you will benefit from this book and some of the related resources, like his case-law collections; these days, in fact, his law practice comprises helping other attorneys out with legal issues in self-defense cases. After all, he’s the guy that wrote the book on the law of self-defense!
Would it make a good gift for a new self-defense gun owner?
Well, Your Humble Blogger bought a copy intending to do just that with it — present it to an octogenarian relative who’s thinking about owning a gun for the first time.
Do I have to buy it to replace my Second Edition?
Generally, you don’t. While self-defense policy and politics are evolving rapidly, the material in the Second Edition is still sound.
The first edition dates to 1998, and so it is outdated. The Second Edition is from 2013, so it’s still fairly current.
The changes in the new edition include: a new forward by Mas Ayoob, nearly 1/3 more content, and more examples that arose after 2013. The Third Edition has also benefited from a complete review of state laws (which are always changing), and an overall rewrite.
So you don’t have to buy it, but you might still want to. We did!
How is the 3rd Edition Changed?
One example of the new content is Branca’s use of the 2014 trial of Michael Dunn for the shooting death of Jordan Davis and the attempted murder of Davis’s friends. Dunn did specific things, both during the shooting and afterward, that left him unable to convince a jury his was a of self-defense. Although he was only convicted of the attempted murder — the jury hung on whether Davis was killed in self-defense or not — it was a pyrrhic victory, with a remarkable life-plus-90-years sentence, possibly a record for “attempted” murder. (It seems likely that the judge disagreed with the jury, and sentenced Dunn based on the conviction the judge thought should have been delivered). Dunn’s key errors were: continuing to fire as the Davis’s friends’ vehicle fled, but most of all, fleeing the scene himself. Branca always stresses the importance of both acting within the limits of the law and telling a consistent story of your lawful actions in self-defense. If you run away, like Dunn, they will find you, and when you throw down the self-defense card they will not believe you. Ask Dunn if you want; it’s going to be a long life plus ninety, and he could probably use a visitor.
Each chapter ends with a “Wrap-Up,” and the main body of the book concludes with a chapter that essentially wraps it all up, and a final one that gives you a sort of meta-question to ask: was (is) it worth it? Before you draw, before you fire, you should be able to answer that question in the affirmative. Andrew gently points out that answering this question might well draw a pretty tight line around you and yours, that will keep you always in the right of the Law of Self Defense in your state — even if it’s Ohio.
Is there anything we’d change? After the narrative material concludes, there’s a by-defense-principle and then by-state rundown of the law. It’s useful, but the headings are printed in fine italic type on a grey background. We’d change that. We’d also like to see an index.
(Note for the record: Andrew kindly offered us a review copy when the 3/e went to press; we declined it because it is our policy to purchase books for review, and pre-ordered instead, and got our copies when the rest of the pre-orders shipped).
In the comments below, Andrew extended the offer of a significant discount to WeaponsMan.com readers. From his subsequent comments, you guys have found it… but in case you haven’t, and want this book, dig in and grab it while he still offers the code.