My Friend’s Gun on the Coffee Table

A friend of mine used to keep a loaded revolver on the coffee table in his apartment. Because he had plenty of valuable property to protect, some legal, some not, the reason for the gun was obvious. But I was curious, so I asked him, “Why keep it on the coffee table?”

He explained that you can’t just shoot someone for breaking into your home in Virginia. But if the trespasser knows the gun is there, and you shoot him, your self-defense case will be strong.

This makes sense under the common law, which is the basis of jurisprudence in Virginia. Generally speaking, you have an absolute right to defend your home and property. Furthermore, you can use deadly force when it is reasonable to do so. The question becomes, When is it reasonable to use deadly force?

According to my friend, Virginia assumes it is more reasonable to use deadly force to prevent trespass when the trespasser knows there is a real risk that deadly force will be used to prevent the crime. The explanation is that the crime victim normally has a duty to retreat from the use of deadly force, but that duty is nullified when the victim has cause to believe that retreat is not feasible or that retreat will not alleviate a potentially deadly threat.

Put another way, when the potential use of deadly force to prevent a crime is known to the criminal and that knowledge fails to deter the commission of the crime, then the use of deadly force may be excused.

I have no idea how well my friend understood the law, but he did grow up next door to a Norfolk judge. He probably asked for advice before moving into the apartment where he kept his handgun in plain sight.

13 thoughts on “My Friend’s Gun on the Coffee Table

  1. Your friend’s logic seems odd.

    What if the thief broke in the backdoor and never saw the gun?

    Or your friend left the room briefly to pee, the thief broke in, saw the gun, took it and robbed the owner.

    Does that negate the need for a knowledge of weapons to alter the right to deadly force.

    Somehow, a loaded gun on the coffee table seems hostile on its own.

    Interestingly enough, there were some info that the police put out a few years ago to neighborhood organizations that pro-gun stickers on your car or door told burglars that guns might be part of the haul of stolen goods. That is, easy money on the streets with a good quality weapon for sale.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RE: “What if the thief broke in the backdoor and never saw the gun?”

      The question isn’t, What would the thief do? The question is, How do I defend a homicide in court, should I commit one?

      In that case, a gun in plain sight, or one generally known to exist would skew the objective facts to the advantage of the gun owner based on nullification of the duty to retreat.


      1. Because you knew he had a loaded gun on his coffee table does not make it general knowledge except among his acquaintances.

        It seems that the pro-gun lobby places a higher value on property than life.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. RE: “It seems that the pro-gun lobby places a higher value on property than life.”

        That’s a wild surmise. At issue is the law, not the pro-gun lobby. Homicide is forgivable under the law in various situations. My contention is that nullification of the duty to retreat is sufficient to define one of those situations.


    2. “Or your friend left the room briefly to pee, the thief broke in, saw the gun, took it and robbed the owner.” This got a big chuckle out of me. I mean, besides robbing the friend, it’s highly likely that the guy gets shot on the toilet or standing with his back toward the door, and is found in a most embarrassing, messy mess when the police arrive. Ha.

      But, seriously, this type of ‘gun protection’ need (AT EVERY MOMENT OF THE DAY) which makes someone think it’s a smart idea to keep a loaded gun on the coffee table is nothing short of being ridiculous, dangerous and most likely also point to a mental issue, as well.

      All it does in my view is to reinforce the nonsense of so many people that a shootout is going to happen in some exact certain way.

      The problem is just as you suggest – highly unlikely that someone breaking in to do ‘whatever’ is going to roll out just as someone dreams of it happening. I doubt that it rolls out the way this kind of person assumes it will.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As I understand it, a violent entry into a locked residence is presumptive of an intent to do harm.

    Entering through an unlocked door, such as a drunk entering the wrong home, or a stealthy entry as a burglar entering a home he mistakenly thinks unoccupied might require an additional over act signaling an intent to do harm, but crashing through a locked door of an occupied dwelling is presumptive of a deadly threat.

    In that case, the only reason to have it on the coffee table is quick access.


    1. RE: “In that case, the only reason to have it on the coffee table is quick access.”

      That too, I suppose. My friend seemed to think that keeping the gun in plain sight where a trespasser would see it would play a role in his legal defense. A stealthy burglar who sees the gun and doesn’t withdraw has, in effect, consented to the possibility of being shot.

      That is, it would be reasonable to expect the burglar intended to cause harm that justifies the use of deadly force.


  3. Virginia has a Castle and Stand Your Ground law. Any force has to be proportional to the situation but self defense and level of threat is key. Essentially, a non-aggressor is allowed to use deadly force against an aggressor if it is believed great bodily harm or death is imminent. If someone violently breaks in your home, that threat is presumed and deadly force is allowed. If a drunk walks into your home accidentally, it is not allowed. If you disrupt a burglar in your home and they don’t immediately flee they are a threat but you can’t shoot them if they run. They must be inside to be a threat and you are not required to retreat.


    1. …”if it is believed”…

      That is kind of the issue. YOU may believe there is a threat of great bodily harm or death. ANOTHER may feel differently. Don called me out for saying the individual’s feelings don’t matter. People reperceive similar things differently.


      1. Me thinking I am in imminent danger from a criminal in my home at 2am is perfectly reasonable. You thinking I am not in imminent danger is not reasonable. What part of that don’t you understand?


        1. I actually agree with you. I am just pointing out that if your FEEL threatened, you may not be and then you are culpable for committing (stupidly, I might add) a crime in defense of your person or property.

          As the saying goes: F*&% your feelings. 😇


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