Can You Shoot a Carjacker?

Self-Defense. In case this is the first article you are reading from, we take it pretty seriously. You likely hear stories often of citizens, under life-threatening circumstances, putting their lives on the line to defend themselves or others from criminals who mean them harm. But are there times when protecting yourself may cause more harm than good? Let's take a look at the crime of carjacking. This is an example where many people give different answers regarding the best way to handle it.


There are two very different legal definitions that we should talk about before going more in-depth—carjacking vs. Car Theft. Car Theft is an incredibly prevalent crime in our country, with the FBI's 2016 crime report stating that over 760,000 took place across the nation during the calendar year, losing U.S. citizens $5.9 billion in property during that time.

Carjacking, on the other hand, is much different. Massachusetts refers to it by what should be its dictionary definition, “assault with the intent to steal a vehicle.” So as we advance, know that there is a difference between the two and that there are different legal barriers for both regarding your ability to use your firearm legally.

As many of you know, gun law between states in the U.S. can be pretty confusing. Even in reading this article, you may see some information that does not pertain to you simply because of your state's stance regarding “Stand Your Ground” laws vs. “Duty to Retreat” laws. Ensure that you check and see which side of this your state's stance lies before jumping to any conclusions you may come to from reading this piece.


All that said, let's look at something that may be considered the most universally correct, no matter where you live, and that is shooting at a person that you find stealing your car, which means that you see someone in a parking lot, side street, or your driveway simply breaking into your vehicle. While it is well within your rights to attempt to deter the criminal from doing what they're doing (turning on Flood Lights, making loud and sudden noises, calling the police, and hoping they show up quickly), it is generally considered a terrible idea to go into this situation guns metaphorically and blazing.

We have seen many stories over the years of individuals catching criminals attempting to take their car and getting into legal trouble for doing so. Even in Stand Your Ground friendly Georgia, attacking someone trying to steal your vehicle while posing no threat to your or anyone's safety could land you in legal trouble. Simply put, if you are not threatened with violence, and you go on to commit violence, you're the aggressor, and a pretty straightforward case can be made against you in front of a jury no matter how in the right you are, common sense wise.


But what about if someone is threatening you for your vehicle? What if someone had a gun on you and was demanding your car, or they were going to kill you? Surely that must be grounds to defend yourself, right? Unfortunately, not everywhere.

As we have mentioned in a previous article, despite popular belief, a car is not an extension of your home in most states. So the same rights that you have to defend yourself within your home do not necessarily apply to your car.

So the question arises. Can I or Should I shoot at a Carjacker? Well, to legally justify an act of self-defense, you need to show your action was reasonable, proportionate, and in response to an immediate threat. Depending on the state you live in, you may also have to show you didn't have a safe course of retreat. You should still check the laws in your local area for more personalized information.

On the whole, though, the same laws that apply to other public threats to your safety will apply to you in your car. If you are threatened and feel your life is in danger, you may defend yourself from carjackings. If you are not being threatened and see a car theft taking place, using a firearm to stop the crime could see yourself committing a more serious one. Cars are property after all, and almost without exception, you don't have the right to use deadly force to protect any form of property.

If you're interested in learning how to increase the odds of surviving a carjacking-type encounter, consider this article. We put together 5 videos that highlight aspects of gunfighting in and around a vehicle. And Matthew explains the lessons he learned after being carjacked when he was growing up.

So what do you think of this article? Did it provide you with any helpful information? Did it raise more questions for you? Let us know in the comments below so we can start a conversation.

About Craig Martin

Craig Martin grew up in the unincorporated town of Lewis, Wisconsin. From a young age, Craig was introduced to guns, as he was tasked with defending his backwood home’s wiring from a scourge of red squirrels.

Ever the animal lover, though; Craig couldn’t let these creatures die needlessly. So he would take his kills and leave them for the foxes, coyotes, and bears to eat at a deer feeder his grandfather built around their home.

His lifestyle made Craig understand that guns are a tool and ever since, has spread the word about how firearms are not a menace, like the red squirrel, but an item to help people. He instils this in every article he writes for USA Firearm Training.


  1. David Tracy on February 17, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    Good article. In zLouisiana your car is considered an extension of your home. I verified this with our State Police

    • Josh J Boots on February 1, 2019 at 5:26 pm

      Never take legal advice from a cop…. that’s how you get hemmed up

      • G. Kortas Sr on January 21, 2023 at 4:39 pm

        Great article, learn more
        This is straight thinking, always try to defuse the situation 1st and then think 🤔 and watch.

    • Bill on July 11, 2021 at 7:56 am

      It Definitely raises more questions for myself I live in an area close to Gary Indiana and out here between Gary Indiana and Chicago Illinois they car jack heavily and in a lot of cases they don’t give commands they just shoot so With that being said the state Probably doesn’t have any control over carjacking know if you have your family in your car and yourself lives with a handicap and You see a car Jack or come up to your car with a gun I believe in my rights that I have the right to protect my family my property and myself considerate I can’t fight with my hands due to my handicappers I should be able to go ahead and self-defense and shoot So with that being said the question is am I within my rights to shoot in the state of Indiana

    • Keith on April 27, 2022 at 6:44 pm

      1st, Texas allows deadly force to protect property/ see Joe Horn case
      He legally shot two people stealing HIS NEIGHBORS PROPERTY AFTER BEING ASKED TO SIMPLY WATCH IT while they were gone
      2nd, in 1997 Louisiana passed a shoot the carjacker law, allowing and justifying homicide to prevent the act, by either driver or passenger

  2. Michael A on February 17, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    The article never addressed the scenario posed in the leading photo: an armed carjacker in the driver’s face. I certainly would defend myself, and fortunately I live in a Stand Your Ground State.

    • K Taylor on February 27, 2018 at 10:41 am

      The writer addressed that scenario in the first paragraph about carjacking….”someonehad a gun on you and was demanding your car or they were going to kill you”.

  3. Martin on February 17, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    Great little article!

  4. Jim W. on February 27, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    Some years back, a man named Alva Campbell was being transported in a wheel chair from the Franklin Country Jail to the County Court in Columbus, Ohio. He overpowered the guard, took her weapon, carjacked and killed an unarmed young man as he sat at a traffic light to make his escape. He was caught a short time later by Columbus Police.
    I think if I was carjacked by a perpetrator with a weapon, it would be better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6.
    If the vehicle was being broken into or someone attempting to steal it I’d simply call 911 and give the best description possible, then call my insurance agent.

    • Marc on August 24, 2022 at 7:30 am

      Perfect Jim. Agree 100%

  5. Doc Graham on February 27, 2018 at 5:26 pm

    If someone has a firearm drawn in order to threaten me to the point of relinquishing my car, I will clearly shoot him if I have the opportunity. Today, with the value of life diminishing and lunatics increasing,a brandished firearm during the commission of a crime means that the criminal is going to take my life. I don’t believe any clear-thinking jury member (in today’s society) would disagree with that action. I would appreciate any and all comments on my thought process.

    • Matthew Maruster on February 28, 2018 at 9:06 am

      Hey Doc, the standard is always the same, it is the reasonableness standard. But, what people determine to be reasonable varies, so this is where the uncertainty in outcome lies. With the basic facts you presented, I agree that anyone would find it reasonable to assume that you feared that the person demanding your vehicle while pointing a firearm at you was likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. The other part of the equation is that in some states there is a duty to retreat. This raises another ‘reasonableness’ standard where the question is: did the person defending themselves and claiming they used deadly force in self-defense, have the ability to do something else before resorting to deadly force? Again, in the scenario you mentioned, I believe most anyone would agree that there was not another reasonable course of action. And finally, with the exception of my great state of Ohio, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your actions were NOT reasonable. This means everyone on the jury must agree that your actions were not reasonable, which is a high standard. In Ohio, the defendant must show that he/she met the standards and prove that they did not create the situation, were unable to retreat and that it was reasonable. A completely backward way of looking at the idea of innocent until proven guilty.

      So yes, you were right on, at least in my estimation of what is reasonable 🙂 Thanks for the message!

      • HR on April 4, 2021 at 7:15 pm

        I don’t know. If I had the opportunity to retreat, even if the thief was armed and ready to shoot me if I tried to stop him, some juries might not find my decision to shoot reasonable. I’m in Michigan, a stand your ground state – but I wouldn’t want to test that with a Detroit jury.

    • M.J. on June 26, 2018 at 12:39 am

      Rember people in Communist California read this too. And the jury there would probably hang the car owner.

    • Vinnie on June 26, 2018 at 6:57 am

      I agree with everything you say. Clear thinking juror is the key though. Seems like a crap shoot nowadays

    • John on September 7, 2019 at 2:41 pm

      You would have to hope and pray that a Democrat was not on the Jury. You for sure would be hung out to dry and they would award millions to the Hijackers family.

      • Ben on September 25, 2019 at 7:41 pm

        Your retarded, I’m a Democrat and hunter and gun owner. Threaten me or my family I’m shooting you.

        • cowboy1836 on May 11, 2020 at 9:20 pm

          Ben, If you keep voting Democrat you will won’t have anything to shoot with.

          • John Smith on July 12, 2020 at 9:39 pm

            Yea, we democrats are hell bent on taking our guns away from ourselves to defend ourselves from those evil democratic criminals. Oh, and that wasn’t us wearing those uniforms when we served our country, it was some conservative patriot we paid to go into harms way for us. And boy, let me tell ya, you conservatives demand a pretty penny for the privilege! What was it…..minimum wage…?…….ANYWAY, yea, we ARE trying our damndest to cut down on those ARSENALS you proud, patriotic American militia members are stocking up on, those 30 round clips and crates (not boxes…CRATES) of ammunition you need to feed your fifteen AK’s and twenty AR’s you good old boys need to insure that you can defend yourselves from TYRANTS (any government official from president on down to dog catcher that YOU didn’t vote for, the hell with all that DEMOCRACY crap we democrats keep trying to force on you), never mind that you and your basement full of military grade assault weapons, grenade launchers, RPG’s, and fifty cals can pretty much get blown away with ONE hellfire from a government Cobra gunship. Yea, shame how you bubba militia types always seem to have slept thru that chapter on civil war and treason and how well THAT went over the last time it was tried…….
            No, my friend, we horrible commie pinko democrats are NOT going to vote out our reasonable home defense weapons or hunting gear, but we ARE getting fed up with you friggin mass shooters, bubba militia ammosexuals and other nutjobs who are killing our friends and family when you go off the deep end after soaking up one tweet to many from your satanic lord and savior hiding out in the White House bunker.
            No, we are happy with the nice 9mm that they will have to pry out of OUR cold dead fingers should something so unlikely ever come to pass.
            Now go out back and vaporize some poor squirrel with your fancy AK “hunting rifle”……….

        • Anita on August 11, 2020 at 10:51 am

          I’ve been a lifelong Democrat but NO MORE. They have lost their minds completely to the point i had no other choice but to away.

        • Mike Randomowski on July 15, 2022 at 10:43 am

          I agree… its not based on political views. If it comes down defending yourself you do what you need to do.

      • Pam on May 15, 2022 at 7:48 am

        That is BS, I am a women. have a C C , and don’t believe everything you read as most Republicans do. That is the problem with Stereotypes. Many of my friends, Democrats and Republicans are all for protecting ourselves and have CC licenses. We also train at the gun range and get so pissed off hearing these type comments. I would not hesitate to protect myself, neighbor or stranger from an armed assailant. The pull a weapon first, it will be their last!

    • Omar on March 9, 2024 at 8:33 am

      Well said sir!! I completely agree. At a certain point you have to know when it’s over but if you possess that skill set to see the opportunity to send that devil to his maker then go for it.

  6. logman on March 2, 2018 at 9:24 am

    Gee, kind of sounds like the Laws are written to protect the bad guys , huh?

    • M.J. on June 26, 2018 at 12:40 am

      Ofcourse especially in blue states

  7. Mike on March 5, 2018 at 9:21 am

    Back in the fall of 2008, while on my way to work at 5am, i had a guy step out in front of my car at intersection trying to flag me down. Living in a very small town, i assumed he needed help ( car broke down, medical issue, fire somewhere or ???? ) Next thing i know, I’ve got a 45 1911 pointed at me and him screaming…Get the “F” out of the car. When he screamed the same command the 2nd time, i still had the car in gear and had the mindset to just smash the gas and drive away…i called 911, told them i had someone try to Carjack me and where it happened… about 1/4 mile away, i came across 2 police cars with one of the officers leading away a guy in handcuffs. I got out of my car, told them what had happened, they were in their radios and police cars were flying to where the guy was immediately. And he was still there waiting on another car to show up i assume. He got down on his knees, put the gun to his own head and threatened to kill himself. He finally put the gun down and was arrested. What i didn’t know was that the police had pulled him over earlier with the guy i seen in handcuffs. The guy that had flagged me down had got out of the truck the police had pulled over. ( they had received a 911 call from another person saying they had pointed a gun at them while they were driving) he then turned and fired that same 45 at one of the deputies missing him, ran… crossed a creek, came out from between some buildings and tried to carjack me, so yes.. he was desperate to get out of there.The police also found a bag he had thrown away with almost 50 small bags of Meth…he as later sentenced to 30 years for the attempted carjacking and shooting at the officer on a plea agreement. So… in this situation, i did NOT have a handgun with me for self defense. ( I live in Indiana)..i often wonder.. what would i have done if I were carrying myself that morning… would i have pulled it and shot him with the possibility of him shooting me back, if i had shot him,escaped and he died, would i have been arrested for murder when i had a chance to drive away like i did? All questions with answers I’ll never know. What i can say is… everything happened so fast, there wasn’t time to think, do this or maybe this or what about that. The police told me i did the best thing i could have… had i got our of the car, he could have shot me, and drove away… yes, they would have found my body, but they would have not had any idea what i was even driving for awhile, giving him the chance to be long gone. I was awarded a civilian service metal for having had the mindset to call 911 immediately after i drove off and finding the police, and giving his location before he ran off.
    So, again… not sure in this State how it would have all played out in a different scenario. I do carry a 9mm handgun with me now everywhere i go.
    Lesson learned as they say… things can happen even in a small town.

  8. D Bell on November 6, 2018 at 8:24 pm

    “What if someone had a gun on you and was demanding your car or they were going to kill you? Surely that must be grounds to defend yourself, right? Unfortunately, not everywhere.”

    Are there actually some states that don’t see armed robbery as a lethal threat?

    You’ve just been threatened with deadly force. If you can’t defend yourself against that, why carry a weapon at all?

    Regarding retreat, if he’s within speaking distance, you can’t retreat from a bullet. Even in a car, a 9mm can pass through both doors or pass through the trunk and hit the dashboard.

    You may not have an opportunity to defend yourself and may be forced to comply. But compliance is risky.

    I’m not saying I know what I’d do, but I’d sure like knowing I could legally defend myself (and those with me) if I felt it was necessary.

    • Jacob Paulsen on November 6, 2018 at 8:42 pm

      D Bell, I think the laws of any state would consider a verbal threat from an armed attacker that they were going to kill you as a viable and imminent threat of deadly force and so you would be justified in using deadly force against that threat.

  9. Granny on December 30, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    The picture of the gunman with his arm inside the car and the gun so close to my head (putting myself in that situation) gave me a couple of thoughts. 1) There is no way I have the ability to grab my gun without his going off first; 2) a quick left hand on his wrist, my right hand on the shift to drive or reverse (whichever is most feasible), and my foot stomping the gas. This action may get me shot, but it may not. And it may throw him off enough that I can a) grab my gun and end the struggle successfully to my satisfaction and safety if he is still intent on harming me or someone else now that I’ve made him angry and embarrassed; b) cause him to flee for safety.

    I have to tell you, this picture is my worst nightmare. He’s too close, and that means I’m not paying attention. Situational awareness is the key to survival.

    Thanks for the article, and the reminder to always be aware of my surroundings, and the local gun laws surrounding Stand Your Ground vs be a victim. Not A Victim!

  10. Larry Lancaster on December 30, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    I feel that pointing a gun at someone is a lethal threat regardless of the motive. If I have a gun pointed at me, I’ll do whatever is necessary to mitigate that threat and then call the cops.

  11. David on June 22, 2019 at 1:32 pm

    Agree with many of the comments. However there are always legal details you will be forced to deal with. Common sense jurors are not the norm nowadays. So you could get prosecuted even though you carry your pocket version of the Constitution. Could lose all your money defending your rights. It isn’t fair, but that is the world we live in.

    • William on June 6, 2023 at 8:19 pm

      So better to become a thug criminal then I guess. Maybe all us “good guys” should just do that. Maybe THAT should be the new normal.

  12. John on October 16, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    What if someone holds a gun up to your head and tells you to get out of the Car in Massachusetts and you do so as soon as he gets into the driver’s seat could you pull your firearm out and shoot him or would you be in trouble for this as well as he did physically threaten your life.

    I’m just very confused with the laws and would like to protect myself from any issues after all we are the good guys who only want to hurt bad guys.

    • Jacob Paulsen on October 29, 2019 at 8:40 am

      John, in short you can defend yourself against deadly threats but you can’t defend your car. You can defend your family and other humans against deadly threats but not your car. It isn’t about what the bad guy DID in the past but what he is doing right now. So if in the moment you decide to fire your firearm you were defending against a threat of death than you are justified. However if when you fire you are defending against a past threat or a future threat then you are not justified

      • Meagan on May 7, 2022 at 12:13 pm

        I just don’t understand why can’t you just shoot the bad guy based on the fact that he pointed a weapon at you and made threats. Even if you knew he wanted your car, can’t you just cap the fool then tell the police I didn’t know what was going on I just saw the gun and got deathly scared?

  13. Audrey on October 28, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    A story in tonight’s news (Ohio) was of someone carjacking a woman, then forcing her to drive him to an ATM to get cash. Another criminal followed in a getaway car after the cash was retrieved. It could have ended up worse (rape, murder). If the woman had a firearm, would she have been at fault to use it because her car was merely property and she can’t use force to protect it? But by the time it turned into kidnapping, it was probably too late to try to draw a weapon. And even then, would she have been found at fault?
    Seems crazy that a woman can’t defend herself, preventing the carjacking-turned-kidnapping-turned potential abduction or rape. How many rapes/murders happen, starting as a carjacking, because we can’t use deadly force in time to prevent them?!

  14. Renee on July 17, 2021 at 7:21 am


  15. Larry on August 1, 2021 at 11:07 am

    Guns don’t kill people , people kill people and no matter what gun or amount of ammo changes that!

  16. Steve b on December 3, 2022 at 6:13 am

    Article does not give any information on the question of when you can use deadly force in a car jacking. It just talks about his experience years ago. Nice story but no info. ,,,

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