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Can You Point a Gun at a Trespasser?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

For many gun owners, the reason for purchasing a firearm is to keep your family and property safe. And trespassing is against the law. Still, police are pretty adamant that citizens not take the law into their own hands.

So what happens if you have a gun and you have a trespasser on your property? Are you allowed to point your gun at that trespasser?

What's the Point?

As lawyers will say, the only answer that is 100 percent correct in 99 percent of legal cases is: "It depends." Many states have anti-trespassing laws and statutes that allow citizens to use deadly force in response to a threat of bodily harm, and, as a general rule, those laws intersect to provide more protections for gun owners encountering trespassers, burglars, or thieves in their home. At the same time, pointing a gun at someone can be considered assault, defined as a threat that puts someone in fear of imminent harm.

So figuring out whether just pointing a gun at a trespasser is a crime can depend on a variety of factors, including how your state criminal statutes are worded, whether the trespasser was in your home or merely on your property, whether you reasonably fear great bodily harm or death, and even how threatened the trespasser felt at the time.

What's the Result?

The variance in how trespassing cases are handled is demonstrated by looking at a couple of recent cases. A New Hampshire farmer was convicted in 2008 of threatening a trespasser with a gun, but had his three-year sentence commuted by the governor. On the other hand, a Nevada man was acquitted on a murder charge after shooting two unarmed trespassers sleeping in a duplex he owned and largely abandoned, killing one, seriously wounding the other.

So before you start waiving a weapon at trespassers, you may want to check your state and local criminal and real estate laws, and only resort to guns in the most dire of circumstances.

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