Minnesota sheriff warns residents against firing warning shots after recent incidents

After a "handful" of recent incidents, the sheriff in Benton County, Minnesota is warning residents that it's a bad idea to fire a warning shot.

In a message posted to Facebook on Monday, Sheriff Troy Heck says deputies have responded to several incidents recently where homeowners have fired warning shots when they suspected a prowler was on their property, including an incident just this past weekend.

The sheriff says not only is firing warning shots potentially dangerous, but it is also illegal.

"From a safety perspective, this is an extraordinarily bad idea," the post reads. "Bullets fired at the ground can ricochet or strike unintended targets. Bullets fired into the air eventually land somewhere. From a legal perspective, firing warning shots could result in the person firing the gun receiving criminal charges."

The sheriff says state law does not allow for people to use deadly force to protect property, adding deadly force should only be used as a last resort and "situations where someone is threatened with great bodily harm or death."

"Even the threatened use of deadly force in the form of warning shots could be illegal depending upon the details of the incident," the sheriff added. "It is a felony to discharge a firearm under circumstances that endanger the life of another or to recklessly discharge a firearm within a municipality. Again, depending upon the details of the incident, the person firing a warning shot could also face felony charges of Assault or Threats of Violence under MN law."

While it is possible the recent national conversation over self-defense, like the Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Kenosha, has contributed to the incidents, the sheriff hopes his warning will urge citizens not to make reckless decisions.

"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. I can't say if the recent controversy surrounding the use of force and self-defense contributed to the decision of the citizens who chose to engage in firing warning shots, but I am hopeful that this information can prevent a future tragedy.

The sheriff concludes the best option for homeowners who suspect a crime is occurring on their property or business is to call 911.