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Gun owners had best know defense from offense

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on June 11, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
June 11, 2010 6:49 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

To read the online discussions about the shooting of a 20-year-old in the McKenna area Wednesday, it appears that some people regard any shooting by a homeowner as justified.

Doesn’t matter if his house hasn’t been broken into. Doesn’t matter if he’s being threatened. Doesn’t even matter if the person he shoots isn’t on his property.

Nobody yet knows all the facts about the McKenna shooting, and 69-year-old William David Morgan – who reportedly shot and killed Joseph Tobeck – has not had his day in court. What the police have reported so far, though, can’t be remotely construed as a case of self-defense.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department gave the following account:

Tobeck and another 20-year-old, who reportedly were collecting and selling scrap metal, found a collection of old metal pipes in a ditch across the road from Morgan’s home. (A roadside drainage ditch is a public right-of-way, not private property.)

After they loaded the pipe into a pickup, Morgan yelled from across the road, accusing them of theft. The surviving 20-year-old said they told Morgan they didn’t intend to steal from him.

Morgan brandished a gun. The 20-year-olds jumped into the truck and tried to drive off, but found themselves in a dead end and drove back. Morgan repeatedly fired at them; police found nine .40 caliber shell casings in front of his house. Bullets appeared to have penetrated both the front windshield from the front and the rear windshield from the rear.

Tobeck was shot in the head and died the next day.

A different story may emerge with further investigation, but no law-abiding gun owner or self-defense champion ought to be defending a shooting under the above scenario.

Tobeck had had prior some run-ins with the law: possession of marijuana in 2008, fourth-degree assault (as a 14-year-old) and fourth-degree domestic violence, and burglary and vehicle prowling as a 10-year-old. It’s possible Morgan had seen him up to no good. Regardless, these are not capital offenses.

Homeowners don’t get to shoot people on general principles. In this state, the law doesn’t require that citizens retreat before defending themselves with lethal force – but it hardly justifies shooting people who aren’t on your property and aren’t threatening you. Private citizens can play defense with a gun; they can’t play offense.

This is a single, terrible incident, but the number of people chiming in on Morgan’s behalf points to some serious misconceptions about what self-defense is and isn’t. People who legally own guns had better know the difference. Enough bad guys are shooting up people in this country without the supposed good guys also getting into the act.

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