Deadly Force Book Review

Deadly Force – Understanding Your Right to Self Defense is the single most important work from renowned gun expert Massad Ayoob. Why? Because this book can literally keep you out of prison or an early date with a grave.

Quite frankly: if you carry a firearm and do not intimately know the laws of self-defense, you are a danger to yourself, your family and others.

If you bristle at this candid statement, then there is a good chance you need to read this book immediately. Knowledge of the law should never come from your local gun shop, internet forums or from people who hide behind a screen name. Unfortunately, that’s where most people seem to get their information.

Why This Book?

There are plenty of books on the market that will purport to explain to you what the legal ramifications of a self-defense shooting are.  What makes this book different is the author’s unique experience, training and research. Ayoob has lived and breathed this subject for more than four decades, appearing as an expert witness in dozens of trials, serving as a police instructor and training citizens through his own validated systems.

His first book on the use of deadly force by private citizens, In the Gravest Extreme: the Role of the Firearm in Personal Protection, was published in 1980 and quickly became the gold standard for teaching citizens the lawful use of force in defense of oneself. Even though it is more than three decades old, it remains relevant today. In fact, Deadly Force could be considered a revision and expansion of that original work.

My Perspective

It may be important to you to know my perspective when you read my review of Deadly Force. I don’t consider myself a gun expert, but I own my own guns, enjoy shooting and have a CCW permit.

I grew up around cops and even married one, who is a bit of a gun nut himself. I’ve seen the consequences of not being prepared to defend yourself, as well as the courtroom results of those who act without knowing the law.

Let’s just say I have a no-nonsense approach to self-defense.

Topics of Understanding

Ayoob covers a lot of material in this book. Fortunately, he keeps it both interesting and easy to read. There are legal concepts in the book that you need to learn, but he keeps it at a level that all of us can understand.

Perhaps one of the biggest topics he covers is also one of the most misunderstood: when can I/should I shoot someone in self-defense? I will not try to retell his answers here, as I would likely fail and provide you with incomplete information.

However, he looks at all of the factors that should go into the decision to pull the trigger and exposes myths and falsehoods that you may unknowingly be relying on.

Deadly Force book review Massad Ayoob

Among the topics covered are:

  • ability/opportunity/jeopardy test,
  • excusable vs. justifiable homicide,
  • impact weapons vs. guns,
  • hierarchy of lethality myth,
  • the Tueller principle,
  • how to deal with NUTS (those who exhibit Numerous Unsettling and Troubling Symptoms),
  • hiring the correct lawyer – it might not be who you would think of,
  • disparity of strength or numbers, and
  • the victim selection process.

We live in a society where media memes have so overpowered collective logic, and even long-established law and case law precedent, that it takes a full-blown trial for the truth to come out, and for law and justice to prevail. The George Zimmerman case appears to be just one such example.

Expect to go to trial if you ever use force in self-defense. Assume that everything you did and said leading up to, during and after the confrontation will be scrutinized and potentially used against you.

Ayoob talks about specific cases and where things went right and wrong for the good guy defending himself. He also talks about when and how to talk to the police so that the officers properly identify you as the victim and do not miss important evidence. Ayoob also talks about how to find the correct attorney – and why the best defense attorney in your area may not be the right one.

Ayoob also touches on the selection of guns and ammunition. For example, he details (with case law) why using handloaded ammo would be a bad idea. Instead, he recommends selecting a good, factory defensive ammunition load. Likewise, he briefly touches on a number of guns he likes for self-defense.


While I think this book is outstanding, I do not think it is perfect.

Deadly Force is not the first of Ayoob’s books that I have read, but I am not what anyone would describe as a sycophantic fangirl of his, willing to overlook problems. The biggest problem I found with the book is not the writing, but its publisher.

This is not a criticism unique to Ayoob’s books, as I’ve seen a lot of poor material come from Gun Digest. There are multiple examples of bad books from Gun Digest such as the Standard Catalog of Remington Firearms and the Gun Digest Guide to Customizing Your AR-15.

For a list price of $21.99, I just think Gun Digest could do a lot better than flimsy covers, black and white photos, and, from what I can tell, no editing at all. This is not an inexpensive book, and Gun Digest should not treat it as one.

I suspect that Gun Digest knows the content is worth twice the price and people will buy it regardless of the effort it puts into publishing.

Final Thoughts

Deadly Force is a book every gun owner and concealed carry permit holder should own, read, and remember. In fact, if you, as a gun owner, only have space on your shelf for one gun-related book, I would recommend that this book be the one.

Not only does Deadly Force contain an excellent summary of your legal rights and responsibilities as a gun owner, but it could also quite literally be the thing that preserves your freedom should ever be so unfortunate as to be involved in a self-defense shooting. You can buy this book at Amazon here.

Last Update: July 30, 2021


This review is Kelly’s first for This book was purchased by GHG and given to her for review. No one requested that GHG provide a positive review of this book, nor has GHG been paid to publish this review.

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