Is vigilantism legal in the United States? In a word or two - absolutely not.
With the recent activity and events in this past presidential election in the nation's capitol, it might be easy to understand why someone might be confused about laws regarding vigilantism.
Long story short, in no way shape, size or form, is an unauthorized person permitted to point a gun at someone other than in self-defense. Yes, that even means in the act of attempting to prevent a crime (where the safety of others or yourself isn't threatened).
The Law on Vigilantism
In other words, you can not, nor does the law permit any individual to take the law into their own hands, as the expression goes. Yes, there is, however, a fine line at times between vigilantism and heroism.
Then again, there are also blatantly obvious instances of vigilantism, where there is no fine line - or any line whatsoever. This might be akin to an angry mob going after a criminal or, as the case was not so long ago, the very principles of our legal system.
The news, the papers, and stories come out all the time regarding cases where it appeared a typical citizen stepped in and stepped up to do the right thing and stopped a crime. In many of those situations, though, the truth uncovers facts like the use of unjust force, unlawful use of a firearm, and even premeditated homicide.
These are also a few reasons why American citizens just can't run around the country as if it were the Wild West era. This isn't the biggest issue with vigilantism though, because that is a matter of accountability and order.
The Big Problem with Vigilantism
If a US citizen stops a criminal and in the process breaks the law to do so, they are still liable to be prosecuted for the laws that were broken. There is a reason why the law is so stern about vigilantism, even when used for good.
The real issue with vigilantism isn't the use or abuse of force or even the fact that people have chosen to enforce the law themselves. The real problem with vigilantism is that those who take the law into their own hands have no accountability factor.
When we talk about law, it is often defined as "law and order." It is that order part, along with a lack of accountability, that makes vigilantism such a dangerous activity and why it is illegal.