On Facebook, a person asked if he could shoot the feral cats that harass him and his pets. Rather than feel a true threat of death or serious injury, the poster seemed annoyed with the animals and the lack of help his landlord and animal control could give him. His solution seemed to be to shoot the cats.
There are two laws that might apply, in our case, shooting in a built-up area like a city. Some areas exempt lawful self-defense against animals, even in defense of property (pets are legally property). Pest control is not a topic of this blog; we are not discussing the aspects of animal cruelty killing feral animals, but rather self-defense against animals.
Discharge of firearm laws vary widely from location to location. In many cases, there is no explicit exemption for even shooting a criminal in self-defense, though it is generally understood to be an exception using common law and common sense, even before justifiable homicide laws. Animals make things a bit murky though.
“Self-defense” is not defined by state law. A common understanding would be protection of one’s self, family, or property, depending on the circumstances. Self-defense is a valid defense to many crimes, articulated by case law, statutes, or simply by prosecutorial, judicial, or even a jury’s discretion. It is unlikely that someone who shoots a truly vicious animal that is or is about to attack would be prosecuted.
The consideration that should be made is the actual danger; is anyone likely to sustain serious injuries or be killed? If it is legal to shoot an animal in defense of one’s own animal, is the predator a credible threat to kill or seriously injure the other animal? Discretion must be used. The threat of the animal should be greater than the danger of a stray bullet. Would neighbors or a jury find the actions reasonable?
Let’s examine the local laws where there may be an express “dangerous animal” exception.
Clark County (unincorporated areas)
Discharge of firearm prohibited in all built-up areas and the below is not an exception to the discharge ordinance. The below section is an animal cruelty exception that may be interpreted as a defense.
It is unlawful for any person to fire upon any animal unless:
(C) In necessary self-defense, or in defense of habitation, property or person;
(D) The animal is venomous or known as dangerous to life, limb or property;
Excludes: 1. The discharge of any gun above described by any person within the city limits or without the city limits but into or across the city limits, while in the defense of the said person's life or the lives of his family or the same person's home or property.
Title 7, Ch. 1
All sections exempt: The discharge of a firearm by any person in the necessary defense of himself, his family or property.
in case of necessary defense of self, family or property
Note that “self-defense” is not defined nor is property referenced.
"One who discharges a weapon in lawful self-defense"
The discharge of a firearm by any person in the necessary defense of himself, his family, another
person or property.
Person lawfully discharging a firearm in protection of life or in self-defense as defined in Nevada law; [property not mentioned]
Necessary self-defense or the defense of one's family or property.
Any person lawfully discharging a firearm in protection of life or property.
This section shall not apply...to any person lawfully discharging a firearm in protection of life or property or livestock.
Washoe County (unincorporated areas)
2. This section does not apply to:
(c) To any person lawfully discharging a firearm in protection of life or property.
White Pine County
The discharge of a firearm by any person in the necessary defense of himself, his family or property
The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t go around shooting animals unless they are attacking you or another person or your pets (where legal). Even where legal, before killing animals to protect pets, livestock, crops, etc. or even just to cull nuisance animal populations, consult with animal control and your local authorities.