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Is It Legal to Defend Your Business From Looters?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

When the chaos of a riot turns to looting, business owners often want to ensure that their livelihoods are not literally carried away by opportunistic criminals. So how can you legally defend your business from looters?

Some business owners in Ferguson, Missouri, are still reeling from the effects of a protest-turned-riot on Sunday. At least nine people were arrested for allegedly looting local businesses during the melee, reports St. Louis' KSDK-TV.

The unruly atmosphere may provide perfect cover for thefts and burglaries, but do business owners have any right to defend their property?

Keeping Out Looters

Most business owners may generally prevent unwanted guests -- not to mention looters -- by taking advantage of the following legal precautions:

  • Security cameras. These may help to deter looters who hope to remain anonymous, and you might even post the surveillance video online.
  • Fences, gates, shutters. Assuming it's OK with your neighbors, you can make your business very difficult to enter without permission.
  • Calling the cops. During a riot this may seem futile, but you should always report criminal activity in or around your business to the police.

By no means, however, should you set up booby traps. In many states, the use of booby traps can be charged as a felony.

Lethal Force for Defense of Property?

Even in states with "Stand Your Ground" laws, it is generally not legally justifiable to shoot someone in order to protect property alone. These laws apply to provide protection to those who use force to defend themselves in the face of great bodily harm or death, not their storefronts.

However, Texas law allows property owners to use deadly force to protect their properties if (among other things) the owner reasonably believes that use of non-deadly force to protect the property will put someone at risk of death or bodily injury. Despite this, a shop owner is much more likely to be acting within the confines of the law when he or she uses non-lethal force to protect him or herself (not the business) from looters.

Are Warning Shots OK?

If you are afraid of your business' imminent attack by looters, you may consider a warning shot as a reasonable show a force to deter would-be burglars. Warning shots, when used in self-defense of a person who fears for his or her life, are likely to be legal. However, a warning shot to simply scare a crowd gathered outside your business may be seen as a violent threat, which may mean criminal charges.

These are just some general guidelines. If you're concerned about potential liability for defending your business from robbers and looters, it may be wise to consult an attorney about the best way to do it.

  • Need legal advice on how your small business should operate? Consult with an experienced business attorney about your options.

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