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Firing a warning shot is 'an extraordinarily bad idea,' Minnesota sheriff's office says

The sheriff has seen a "handful" of warning shot incidents lately in response to possible prowlers.

A central Minnesota sheriff's office isn't mincing words when it comes to private citizens letting off a warning shot at the sight of an uninvited visitor.

"Warning shots are incredibly dangerous and an extraordinarily bad idea. Do not fire warning shots if you are concerned there is someone on your property or for any other reason," the Benton County Sheriff's Office wrote in a Facebook post Monday

The post comes amid a flurry of recent calls where a citizen — spotting someone potentially prowling on their property — said they let off a warning shot as a deterrent. And the sheriff said this is "an extraordinarily bad idea" for a couple of reasons.

First, safety. 

"Bullets fired at the ground can ricochet or strike unintended targets," the post reads. "Bullets fired into the air eventually land somewhere."

Second, it opens up a citizen to potential legal liability, even possible criminal charges. 

"In Minnesota, people may not use deadly force to protect property," the sheriff's office explained. Instead, it's only allowed "as a last resort and only in situations where someone is threatened with great bodily harm or death." 

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The law also includes stipulations about trying to retreat before attempting to use deadly force, the sheriff said.

Why share this information now? In a reply to a comment, the sheriff's office said there was "another instance" over the weekend where someone fired a warning shot. It's the latest in a "handful" of these types of incidents.

"The last thing I want in our community is to see someone get hurt or to see a citizen who thought they were acting legally end up with criminal charges," they wrote.

What should someone do instead?

"The safe and legal response to suspicious or illegal activity at your home or business is to call 911, retreat to an area of safety, and take appropriate and legal steps to ensure your continued safety until law enforcement arrives," the post explains. 

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