When someone is defending himself by shooting at someone with a weapon. The enemy doesn't necessarily has a weapon, there may be a certain threat for the person defending himself.

So, we have a person who wants to defend himself by shooting at someone or an animal.

Is there a word or phrase in English that would describe this situation precisely?

I thought of 'shooting back' or 'firing back' but it's not clear from the definitions in some dictionaries whether I can use any of these in my situatuion.


I'm trying to translate a story which is about a man being under drugs who sees creatures and wants to shoot them (they are angels). It has a catchy title which I'm trying to translate as accurate as possible. Since they're angels and he is being overdosed I want to preserve the whole meaning of the story in the title (It's not being said but I think they want to take him with them).

It's a fiction, no need to bind it with laws.

Would 'shoot out at angels' fit?

  • I've never encountered such a word, and I imagine if there were one it would have surfaced during the 'Stand Your Ground'/Trayvon Martin hoo-ha. Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 19:42
  • 1
    How about "Shooting at Angels"?
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 23:28
  • 1
    This question appears to be off-topic because it's "writing advice" Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 0:02
  • Did you hear about the angel dust drug? "Dust" is also the underworld verb for "kill".
    – Victor B.
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 18:23
  • @Jim I don't understand. Is that a joke or some sort of pop culture reference? (I'm an old man. If it's a reference to the latest rap song or something, I wouldn't expect to recognize it.)
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 22:14

4 Answers 4


The word I'd use is self-defense, which does not require that the person you are attacking be armed, although it also encompasses self-defense where you are not armed either.

When Mr. Green ran towards the police officer with a baseball bat, the police officer shot him three times in self-defense.

Ms. Hart shot the bear in self-defense because it tried to attack her when she was at the picnic table.

Shooting back and firing back always refer to the other person being armed, and a more idiomatic way of saying this is returned fire:

When one of the criminals shot at police from his window, the police returned fire, killing both suspects and rescuing the hostages.

The militants shot towards the compound, and the government forces returned fire, killing all of the militants.

  • Is " shot him three times" really okay? Not "at him"?
    – Victor B.
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 18:15
  • @VictorB."Shot him" is normally understood to mean that you actually hit him. "Shot at him" leaves it unspecified whether you hit or missed.
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 22:03
  • @matt "Returned fire" is certainly a valid and accurate way to express the idea, but I wouldn't say it's "more idiomatic" than "shot back". If anything I'd say it's less idiomatic. It's more formal.
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 22:09

You could always say he shot his way out of trouble.

In the UK you'd probably have a hard time convincing a judge that you were acting in "self-defence" if you shot an unarmed attacker, but obviously things are different in other countries.

In practice, regardless of whether your attacker is an unarmed human or an animal, you probably wouldn't need to actually shoot at them. It would normally be enough to...

fire a warning shot [over their head, for example].


There is no specific, everyday term in English for using a gun in self-defence. So you're not going to find one.

What term you might use, not so specific but still catchy, is a matter better suited to another website. This isn't a site for writing advice.


There's no single word in common use. Normally we say "shot in self defense" or "fired a gun in self-defense". Like, "When the criminal attacked her, Sally shot him in self-defense."

Note that if you don't specify "shot" or "fired a gun" or some similar words, "self-defense" could also apply to defending oneself without a gun. Like, "When Bob attacked him, Fred punched him in the face in self-defense" or "... stabbed him with a knife in self-defense" or whatever.

Yes, as I think you realize, "shoot back" or "fire back" imply that the attacker has a gun and has fired at you. You can't "shoot back" if no one shot at you first.

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