Is It Ever Okay To Shoot Someone In The Back As They Flee?

Convenience Store Shooting

Is it ever okay to shoot someone in the back as they flee? First, a little backstory:

Back in March of 2016, Min Kim, the owner of a Spanaway, Washington convenience store was part of an incident that had become all too common in his store, shoplifting. But this time, Kim wasn't going to stand for it.

Jakeel Mason was in the process of attempting to steal some of the good's from Kim's store. This incident was nearly a month after a similar incident occurred in which Kim's wife Seul Lim was working at the same store and a case of shoplifting quickly turned into a nightmare as the shoplifters of this story pulled out a gun and shot Lim in her stomach.

Thankfully, in that case, the men were arrested and Lim was released from the hospital after only a few hours in the E.R., but the fear that this incident caused throughout the family was felt on the day Jakeel Mason went into the store and attempted to steal.

Min Kim had originally told KOMO News in Seattle that the incident with Jakeel Mason was going a similar way. He came into the store and began to shoplift. At that point, Kim pulled a gun on Jakeel, to attempt to scare him away. However, according to Kim a struggle over the gun then ensued and after a few moments Kim, fearing for his life shot Jakeel Mason. As the cops arrived, Mason was already dead.

However, this story wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Kim later went to trial for this shooting because of irregularities between his story and the events that were shown on the store's security cameras. The cameras did not show a struggle or even an armed Mason shoplifting. What they showed was an unarmed Jakeel Mason running out of the store, followed by a gunshot striking him in his back before Mason fell to the ground.

After seeing this, the courtroom rendered a verdict that will cost Min Kim 8 years of his life behind bars. Kim, in a statement in court, was deeply apologetic for what he had done stating:

“I did not have the right to take Mr. Mason’s life or anyone else’s life, I feel terrible that I did so and will have to live with that for the rest of my life.”

This, then, begs the question: Is it ever okay to shoot someone in the back as they flee?

Before we go any further, I do want to point out a few things. First, I am not an attorney and nothing I say here should be construed as legal advice. It's always best to find an attorney who can help you understand the gun laws in your state. Second, nothing is definite. Not all self-defense situations are the same, and what you need to do in the heat of the moment is make a split-second decision of whether or not you'll pull the trigger, or not.

Let's move on.

There are certain things we must all be aware of when we decide that it's time to own a self-defense firearm. Some of the things we must know with absolute certainty are gun handling, gun safety, your home state's gun laws, how to practice with your chosen firearm, and, finally, how and when you can shoot in self-defense. There are others, as well, but this time around, we're going to talk about that last one because if you don't know what you're doing, you could end up in prison like the subject of the article is.

There is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there regarding when you can and cannot “defend yourself.” I want to state right here that, a lot of the time, in order to claim “self-defense” in a shooting, your life has to be in danger. Depending on the state where you live, you may have a really hard time building a defense in court if you shoot someone as they flee from the scene.

Why? Because at that point, unless he has a gun and is shooting at you or you believe that there is a chance he could hurt someone on the way out, no life is in danger. It may not be a good idea to shoot no matter how you feel at that point about being robbed, what amount of damage has been done to your pride, or how angry you are over the whole ordeal.

There should be a perceived threat, and you may have to prove it in court, which can be hard to do if you shoot someone in the back as they flee. In this case, our subject lied, or thought he saw something totally different in the heat of the moment, which is why it's a necessity to not talk about what happened afterward until you speak to your attorney, first. Otherwise, you could end up having to backtrack in court like Kim did.

A lot of folks fail to understand this, and it's almost as popular as the “drag the body back inside” argument some ill-informed gun owners make. Case in point, one of my friends owns a gun shop that I frequent whenever my hectic schedule allows. I used to help him out behind the counter when one of his employees would call out, just to be a good friend. The last time I helped him, he told me that if someone ever came into the store with the intent to rob, we were to let him have the goods, and then shoot him on the way out once the threat was over and he could recover his goods.

However, if he were to do that, it could be the beginning of a huge headache for him. No matter how hard I tried to help him understand the fault in his thinking, he didn't get it. And, after multiple attempted gun-store robberies in my area, he still believes the best course of action is to shoot a thief as they leave his store.

Here's the thing, though: You are only allowed to use deadly force when you believe serious bodily injury or death may occur to you or someone else. To make it more interesting, in many states just unholstering your gun can be seen as deadly force. In other words, you don't even need to fire a shot off.

Try to remember that, when you can and cannot use deadly force may depend on your state's laws so make sure you know what you can and cannot do. But, most of the time you can only use deadly force when you believe beyond a doubt that your life is in immediate danger. What does “immediate danger” look like? Here's an example:

Let's say someone walks up to you and says they've got a gun in their pants and they're going to reach in, pull it out, and kill you, but then the person keeps walking. Is that immediate danger? The answer is NO, it's not immediate at this point. Does that mean you let your situational awareness go out the window? Not at all, continue to be prepared for that imminent threat should it actually come.

Now, let's say that this man walks up to you and then actually pulls his gun from his pants and begins to bring it up saying he's going to kill you unless you unload your pockets into his hands. Do you think that at this point your life is in immediate danger? I think the answer here is YES. He isn't using merely words, and his actions are dangerous as he begins to point his gun at you.

A perp running away, not shooting at you, is not necessarily a threat (though he could be and each scenario is obviously different). At this point, what you do is call the police for assistance and give them the best description you possibly can.

Another side of this, that some folks don't think of, is each bullet that leaves your barrel is yours. Your name is on it. Shooting a target that's getting smaller because it's running away from you isn't an easy task. Even if you're in a scenario where it is totally fine to pull the trigger on a fleeing suspect, if you hit an innocent bystander, killing that person, it's on you–even if the criminal is likely to be charged for it. Keep that in mind.

Taking it a step further than that, do you actually want to kill someone who isn't actively trying to take your life, but running for theirs? Personally speaking from an ethical standpoint, unless someone's life is on the line, I'm not going to pull that trigger. In the end, it's obviously always up to you, though.

Let's recap: you need to believe that your life is on the line to use deadly force. Not only that, but you also need to prove that your life was on the line. Will a reasonable person in a jury believe that your life was in danger when you shot someone in the back as they fled? If not, you could end up facing jail time just for trying to do what you thought was right. Also remember that every scenario is different, and it may be okay to shoot. We'll try to cover when it may be okay in a future article, or maybe even on the podcast so stay tuned for that.

About Joshua Gillem

Josh is a lifelong practitioner and student of the gun. He grew up shooting/hunting with his dad, and was given his first gun, a 12 gauge shotgun, when just a small boy. After high school, he joined the Marines where his love for firearms blossomed as he qualified with an M16A2, an M9, and a 240G. Josh has been writing about firearms and tactics for several years, owns the blog Gunners Den, is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, and believes that each individual person has the right to self-defense by any means necessary. Currently residing in gun-friendly NC, he carries a concealed gun on a daily basis, even in his own house.


  1. hattie griffin on July 1, 2017 at 10:01 am

    very good information, sound reasonable

    • Charles Tucker on August 26, 2017 at 10:08 am

      Shoot him in the back, then roll him over and shoot him again! Should not be stealing to begin with.

      • Matthew Maruster on August 27, 2017 at 6:05 pm

        @ Charles — Yikes, probably not the best advice to follow.

      • RUDEMASTER on January 5, 2019 at 5:28 pm

        I definitely don’t agree with shooting them in the back or shooting them like he just described you only shoot to protect your life or others… plain and simple! not for stealing…

  2. hattie griffin on July 1, 2017 at 10:03 am

    looking forward for getting trained on handling the gun safely

  3. Louie on July 13, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Being a former NY Police Officer, and now someone who carries every day, I’d like to add my two cents to the “shoot-don’t shoot” scenario. First, and foremost, when I holster on my EDC every morning, I say a quick prayer that I do not have to take it out of the holster in defense of my wife, another person, or myself. At the end of the day, when I store it for the night, I say a quick prayer, thanking God that I didn’t have to use it. Let’s be clear, and understand that the primary reason for carrying IS NOT to kill someone, or even to await the opportunity of shoot someone.
    As I said earlier, I am a Police Office, and I am a Combat Veteran; shooting another human being, regardless of the circumstance, can sometimes lead to personal. inner conflicts, which lead to severe emotional problems. Secondly, if and when you decide to pull the trigger of your EDC, you will be descended upon by numerous Police Officers, depending on how big of village or Municipality you live in, and you will be subjected to hour after hour of question, interrogation, and intimidation in an attempt to get to the truth. Believe me on this one, I have been both the shooter, (I was cleared both times), and I have been in investigator. My advice, “lawyer up”, immediately, no matter how justifiable the shooting was.
    Concealed Carry, carries with it huge responsibilities. In some states, it’s against the law to even allow your weapon to show an outline, or a bulge. In other states, is a gust of wind blows your jacket, or shirt open revealing your weapon, you can be cited, as well as allowing the covering garment to raise up enough to reveal the weapon. Shooting a person in the back for shoplifting is something that almost ever of American views as reprehensible, and it is. As the article says, and as Article 35 of the Penal Law of New York asserts, there are few instances where deadly physical force are authorized. It does state, “A person may use physical force, OTHER THAN DEADLY PHYSICAL FORCE, upon another person when and to the extent that he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent or terminate what he or she reasonably believes to be the commission or attempted commission by such other person of larceny or of criminal mischief with respect to property other than premises.” The entirety of Article 35 in much more in depth, and I suggest New Yorkers reading this, read that. It DOES authorize deadly physical force, even that of a fleeing felon, but it’s scope is extremely limited, you should take the time to memorize it as much as possible.
    Finally, when called to a shooting, and you are the shooter, the Police aren’t there to be your friend, extenuating circumstances aside. They’re there to investigate the incident, and determine if a crime has been committed. They will do their jobs, gather edivence, evaluate statements and circumstances, then send all the above to the District Attorney who, along with the advice of the Lead Investigator, will determine whether or not to present an Information, along with the (possible) homicide book to a Grand Jury.
    So, you pull your weapon and fire it. That takes about 3 seconds most of the time. You’ll then spend the next 12-18 hours answering question after question until you’re no longer certain about what happened. Then, even if you’re cleared of the shooting, you may find yourself in Civil Court, defending yourself against an action that was deemed legal and proper. Even if you win in Civil Court, you may find yourself Bankrupt. Although you may think I’m trying to talk you out of carrying, nothing could be further than the truth. I think that every bodied, and right-minded person should have the right to Carry, and should do so if they desire. Just be as educated as to when you can shoot, as you are in proficient in shooting.

  4. barry cole on July 18, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    There are states, and generally an expectation everywhere that stoping a felon from committing his crime is allowed, using sufficient force to stop it. There is other law about deadly force, when life in danger.

    So in many cases you could shoot at a car theif getting in a car or fleeing, and such theft of goods being stopped is allowed, but it must be clear you did not intend to kill ( we should Never intend to use deadly force – only force sufficient to stop threat, or crime in progress)

    It is obvious much more clear when you fear for your well being, or safety. In Colorado, exceptions are written in. For instance a person tresspassing in your house is a presumed threat, period. A stated threat to. Hurt or kill you or other person’s is a percieved deadly threat. A person leaving your house with all your guns and electronics and your car, probably fits the parameters o stopping a felony in progress. If you thought he’d return to hurt or kill you, it’s a valid fear of your well being. Running out to the driveway tell him to stop and hitting through the window or do, helps your case, while lobbing a round through the rear window and hitting him at 200 yards does NOT help your case.

    The more clear, the better you are. It’s imperitive that you consistently state you feared for your life, safety, well being, and in heat of the crime action, felt it important to stop the crime/threat. It is and was never your intent to kill. Those points, will likely be all your lawyer let’s you say.

    • Jacob Paulsen on July 19, 2017 at 7:27 am

      Barry, 18-1-704 does have parameters for stopping threats in your dwelling but using deadly force or the threat of deadly force to stop a felony in progress isn’t always legal. There is a provision for forcible felonies which are felonies that require physical force against a human in order to commit the crime… like kidnapping for example. However, 18-1-706 is clear that you can only use deadly physical force against another in defense of yourself or another and NOT in defense of any property. Every circumstance is different of course. I love what you said about not intending to kill. That is both a strong ethical and legal boundary.

  5. Scott on July 26, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    That second scenario is a little troubling. Is it not a bad idea to attempt to draw your firearm on someone who already has their firearm drawn on you?

    • Jacob Paulsen on July 26, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      Scott, I think most people would agree that its really hard to draw and shoot faster than someone else just has to shoot. So we agree there.

  6. Don Heater on October 16, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    If the perp has turned. around to leave, does that indicate that the threat is leaving. It seems that you might cause more legal trouble if you shot and hit him or her in the back, depending on the state you live in.

    • Jacob Paulsen on October 16, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      The key takeaway is that where in the body someone is shot isn’t inherently important. What matters is if you are shooting to stop an imminent threat or if you are shooting to prevent escape. Shooting to stop an imminent threat can be legally justified but shooting to prevent escape only is not legally justified.

  7. DenzelAnderson on October 17, 2017 at 11:33 am

    So you shot a intruder in your home in the dark. He has turned away for a moment to get behind a wall or something to better protect himself. You hit him in the back . He put his life in danger I didn’t. This same thing could be true in an alley or store. You are still his target, he is just moving to a better shooting position.

  8. BC on December 13, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    In my Leo training, there must be certain elements present for the use of lethal force: 1. A lethal weapon must be visibly present. 2. Imminent lethal attack must be reasonably believed or anticipated. The deadly threat must be real. If and when that threat is dissipated or neutralized, then the use of deadly force in self-defense is no longer justified.

  9. Raptor on December 13, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    If that person has shot someone himself and refuses to stop or surrender. Shoot the Bastard any way, any number of times you can.

  10. TR Strunk on March 18, 2019 at 7:01 am

    Is It Ever Okay To Shoot Someone In The Back As They Flee?

    Rule of thumb: Only if they are fleeing “TOWARDS” a family member or some innocent bystander who could be endanger and at risk of possible harm but you better be very sure of the situation. Example: Person pulls a knife on you, you pull your gun. They turn away from you and head straight toward your family member / innocent bystander with the knife in hand. Then yes could easily be determined you were defending others.

    However, person drops the knife and runs away but towards family member / innocent bystander. Then things get really tricky and best solution is not to shoot. The family member / innocent bystander may or probably is just in the direction of the exiting perpetrator. Hence “better be very sure of the situation.”

  11. Kevin on September 3, 2019 at 4:40 am

    Found myself in this situation. 13 years in prison. Never had been in trouble before. My gun discharged accidentally . If you have never been attacked by someone anything can happen. Safety, training goes out the window. Best advice I can give. Keep your mouth shut. A cop makes mistakes also. Could be his first shooting and hears only parts of what you say. He could want to look good and hears only what he wants to. Keep your mouth shut. You can bet even that will be brought up in court in the most negative way they can present it

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