Publishing on Wednesdays & Fridays

Introducing: Slicing the Pie; a weekly column from a Claiborne Parish investigator

Ryan Barnette, a Claiborne Parish investigator and long-time law enforcement officer, will be offering a column each week in the Claiborne Parish Journal. Barnette’s main focus is gun safety. He welcomes questions on this subject. His email address is

Here is an introductory column of what you can expect.

Slicing the Pie

Slicing the pie refers to the analogy of a tactical pie that military personnel, law enforcement officers, or other tactical operators are attempting to slice to gain a superior tactical advantage over the opponent in the confrontation.

I wanted to hit the ground running and offer readers a glimpse into what they can expect from future installments. Today, let’s cover a frequently asked question that I hear from people who are unfamiliar with principles of security, self-defense, situational awareness, carrying a firearm, or any other aspect of what some call a “martial lifestyle.”

Q: “When can I shoot someone?”

This question may seem rather ominous on its face, but when people ask me this, I understand what they mean is, “when am I legally justified to use lethal force against someone who is trying to hurt me?” Before you get all wrapped around the axel about people wanting to shoot someone, let me assure you, that’s not the case here. The fact is, if the people asking me this question wanted to shoot someone maliciously, they probably wouldn’t be asking me (a cop) for advice on the topic. So, onto the answer…

A: When a person has the Ability, Intent, AND the Opportunity to cause you or another innocent person death or great bodily harm, (GBH) the use of lethal force is then legally justified.

Let’s discuss ability. Quite simply, is the bad guy physically able to cause death or GBH to you or to another innocent person. If so, check box number one. However, if the bad guy in the scenario is a 95-year-old dude, dashing about the nursing home on his Rascal scooter, then you have a problem. Pee-paw might actually want to kill you. He may very well have the intent and the opportunity to bludgeon you to death with a sack full of nickels, but does he really have the ability? I doubt it. So, if you skin your smoke-wagon and give Pee-paw a double dose of high velocity lead poisoning… you’re probably going to prison.

Next, let’s talk about Intent. For the purposes of this article, let’s say there are two types of intent; “direct” and “reasonably perceived.” If he says, “I’m going to kill you,” that’s a good, direct indication of his intentions, in my opinion. Let’s say the intent isn’t so direct. Imagine a 6’6” 350-pound man attacks 5’2” 115-pound female nurse. He knocks her to the ground, gets on top of her, and begins to hit her. Perhaps he has no intention of killing her, but does she know that? In that situation, any reasonable person would agree the nurse would be in fear for her life. Not only is she being attacked, but there is an incredible disparity of force exhibited in this situation. Therefore, if the nurse pulled a syringe from her scrub pocket and jabbed it through bad guy’s eye socket, that would certainly be proper use of lethal force.

Lastly, let’s unpack opportunity. Is the bad guy physically present when his ability and intent is established? Let’s say Bill threatens to kill you from across town, via social media. That threat of death is not imminent. So, if you drive over to Bill’s house after he threatened to kill you via Facebook, for failing to return his weed-eater with a full tank of gas, and you smite Bill in his driveway, that’s a poor decision. In this instance you have become the aggressor, and aggressors are not permitted to claim self-defense under the law. That argument would be emptier than Bill’s weed-eater tank, and you’d be off to the pokey, post haste.

In closing, remember these three words… Ability, Intent, Opportunity, and know the bad guy must exhibit all three, simultaneously, for the use of lethal force to be justified. “If there is any doubt about whether or not to shoot, then there is no doubt. Don’t shoot!” – James Yeager

Avoid what you can. Defeat what you can’t.


(Ryan Barnette is not a licensed attorney and no information provided in “Slicing the Pie” or any other publication authored by Ryan Barnette should be construed, in any way, as official, legal advice.)