Monday, April 30, 2012


CNN is running a piece on "Stand Your Ground" laws, and gives four cases where they have been exercised to protect people from prosecution or to acquit them:
  • A mentally handicapped young man was shot and killed at a restaurant drive-thru after a close call between him and a car became violent.  The shooter maintains that he thought the man had a weapon and meant to do him harm.  He has not been charged with a crime.
  • A man shot and killed someone who rushed into his trailer after asking for a drink of water.  The shooter maintains that the man was threatening his wife when it happened.  The man who was shot had contact with the police earlier in the evening, and they believed he was intoxicated.  An autopsy showed that the man had a skull fracture, which might explain his behavior.
  • A man shot and killed a teenager after a group of young men broke into his home looking for snack food.  The man maintains that after he had subdued the group of teenagers, one of them lunged at him and he shot him.  He was prosecuted, but acquitted by a jury.
  • A man learned that someone was robbing his car, grabbed a knife, and gave chase.  When he confronted the robber, the robber swung a bag full of car radios at him, and the man stabbed the robber in the chest, killing him. He was charged with a crime, but a judge dismissed the charges.  That dismissal is under appeal.
CNN goes on to express editorial opinions, drawing on the opinions of a law professor at Loyola, several prosecutors, and police officers to assert that the laws being examined are bad.

Here is my opinion, and please keep in mind that I am far from being a lawyer:

Where I have a right to be, I have a right to defend myself.  To go with that right, I have a responsibility to stand before the law if my judgement is wrong.

Sounds simple, doesn't it?  If only it was.

In two of the cases above, the cases of the man defending his wife and the man who stabbed the thief, the situations are very clear cut to me.  When confronted with someone acting aggressively and not giving you time to think, you react.  A man who rushes a woman in her home or turns around and swings a heavy object at its owner is presenting a clear threat, and in both cases, I have no doubt that the people who defended their lives did so with good reason. In the case of the man with the skull fracture, the homeowners had no way to know that he was hurt.  All they could know was that he appeared to be trying to harm them.

The other two, on the other hand, are much more murky.  The case in Texas basically comes down to who you believe, the man with the shotgun or the youths who broke into his home?  Did he execute a boy or even just have a negligent discharge while pointing his shotgun at a home intruder who had surrendered?  Or did he shoot a teenager who initiated an attack against him after initially surrendering?

The Arizona case is also difficult for me, because I've been on both sides of it.  I've almost run over people because one or both of us weren't watching where we were going, and I've almost been run over.  It doesn't help that the shooter maintains that the man he shot had a pipe or some other weapon, and none was ever found.  Did he take the time to load his pistol and then shoot the man out of malice or fear?

The calls to use a deadly weapon to cause non-deadly injuries are of course specious.  I carry a gun to stop a threat in the most effective way I know.  I am under no illusions about my skills, reflexes, and capabilities to do much more than center mass shots when I am under stress.  Center mass shots on humans tend to be fatal.  After the fact questions about why a person was killed instead of wounded are unrealistic.

Would CNN and the academics, police, and prosecutors who are complaining about these laws prefer that we second guess ourselves when confronted with danger?  Is it preferable that a woman be harmed in her own home while her husband try to figure out why she is being attacked?  Is it preferable for a man to be bludgeoned with a bag of electronics while he tries to decide if he is really in danger?  Should a man with his pregnant fiance in the car wait until they are actually being harmed before he reacts?

I guess where I'm getting at is that "Stand Your Ground" laws have a place in our society, but we have to remember that our rights come with responsibilities.  We have a responsibility to use deadly force only when absolutely necessary, and we can aid ourselves in that by not letting ourselves be rushed into the decision to use it.  Stay aware of what's going on around you and you won't fall into non-thinking reflexes.  But we also have the right to defend ourselves when we feel threatened, no matter where we may find ourselves. 

To me, there is only one answer:  I am going home to my family every night, and we are going to be safe in our home.  What that costs me and someone who threatens me is much less important to me than that simple goal.

1 comment:

Auntie J said...

Well-spoken, sir.

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