Are warning shots okay? Warning shots are not specifically addressed anywhere in Georgia law, but what if you do fire a warning shot? Can you be charged with a crime?
Yes, you certainly can.
Consider “reckless conduct” found in Official Code of Georgia Section 16-5-60: “A person who causes bodily harm to or endangers the bodily safety of another person by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his act,” such as shooting a firearm, “or omission will cause harm or endanger the safety of the other person and the disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
Long story short, if you do something a normal person wouldn’t do in that situation and it causes potential risk to others, you could be found in violation of the law. A warning shot—that is considered reckless conduct—can land you in jail for up to 12 months because of its status as a misdemeanor, and that is 12 months for every identified victim stacked on top of one another. Imagine if there are three victims: the crime would potentially increase as 12 + 12 + 12, meaning anyone close enough that the prosecutor feels could’ve been threatened. You don’t want to leave that kind of life-changing math up to the government.
But reckless conduct may be the best-case scenario if you’re charged with a crime. Now, you could be charged with “aggravated assault,” which is the act of placing another person in reasonable apprehension of immediately receiving a violent injury by using a deadly weapon (in this case, a firearm). What if the basis of your argument, however, is that you didn’t actually point the firearm at anyone? That may not make much of a difference to the judge, the prosecutor, or the jury. As recently as 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court has noted that, “A warning shot, after all, can be an aggravated assault.”
In my experience, prosecutors always follow a charge of “aggravated assault” when a firearm is involved by adding an additional charge of “possession of a firearm” during the commission of a crime. That’s a separate firearm offense that carries a mandatory minimum penalty of five years, a five-year sentence tacked onto the end of any other sentence for aggravated assault that you could receive (which, by the way, could be a maximum of 20 years just for aggravated assault).
So, 20 years for aggravated assault and tack onto it an additional five for “possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime,” and that’s for any particular victim. If there’s more than one victim, double that.
Warning Shots: Just Don’t
So, my legal perspective is this: Warning shots are not okay. Prepare mentally to protect yourself and others with a firearm. Remember, Georgia law justifies your use of deadly force to protect yourself or any other person when you have a reasonable belief your use of deadly force is necessary to protect yourself or that other person from death or great bodily harm or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
Warning shots can rightfully be considered deadly force, and you must act reasonably in the use of deadly force. Prepare yourself, know your rights, and contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney when you need assistance.
Prosecutorial math has just been added to my vernacular.