A fatal shooting in Virginia last month has put a spotlight on the issue of self-defense.

The shooting occurred July 25 at a convenience store in Virginia Beach. According to news reports, several men were robbing the store when a bystander pulled out a legally concealed gun and fired, killing one of the men and wounding another. Two men have been charged in connection with the attempted robbery. The commonwealth’s attorney said it will not file charges against the shooter.

Self-defense is one of many defenses a person might argue when charged with a violent crime. Virginia does not have a statute outlining a right to self-defense, but over many years, courts have established guidelines for when self-defense can be used to justify the use of lethal force with a gun.

The key question is whether the use of force was reasonable. If the shooter had a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm, a court might well determine the shooter was reasonable in acting first. The court might also accept this defense if it finds the shooter was acting in order to protect someone else, but it would also have to determine whether the shooter acted reasonably.

For example, if a shooter fires at a robber who is leaving the scene of the crime, a court might find this was not a reasonable use of force. It’s also possible that a shooter who is trying to protect people might accidentally make things more unsafe for bystanders.

Self-defense can be a powerful argument in criminal defense, but it must be used cautiously. An experienced criminal defense attorney can advise people on their rights and the legal strategies that can protect them.