Last week’s shooting of a thief/innocent scrap recycler (take your pick) in the McKenna area produced one of the most heated online arguments I’ve seen in a while.
The police think the 69-year-old who killed the 20-year-old committed a crime. But he has a slew of defenders out there who – knowing no more than the police know – have decided he’s a hero.
The shooter may have a great self-defense case, for all I know. It’s his admirers who worry me. Most of them have some very relaxed notions about when a “law-abiding” gun-toter can shoot a suspected thief.
Follow the comments and you’ll learn that:
• The 20-year-old was taking pipe from a ditch across the road, and the pipe might have belonged to the shooter, so the kid deserved to get shot.
• The kid and a buddy were doing it after dark, so he deserved to get shot.
• There’s crime in the area, and deputies are slow to respond, so the kid deserved to get shot.
• He tried to get away in his pickup, so he deserved to get shot.
• He resisted a citizens’ arrest, so he deserved to get shot.
• He might have been a criminal, so he deserved to get shot.
• My favorite: The pipes were in a county ditch, and county ditches belong to the public, so he deserved to get shot on behalf of you and me.
There’s no way I could have made this stuff up.
I’m guessing most of the clowns who agree with the above consider themselves law-abiding gun-owners, which makes me worry even more. Gun-owners who respect the law don’t go looking for specious pretexts to execute strangers.
But don’t imagine that all gun-owners share the Quickdraw McGraw philosophy. One who doesn’t is Massad Ayoob, a career police officer and long-time director of the Lethal Force Institute in New Hampshire.
Ayoob trains cops, civilians and U.S. troops in the use of handguns, and he’s been brought in as an expert witness in the defense of people accused of wrongful shootings. He’s an authority on all dimensions of self-defense, including the law. He’s an advocate of gun rights. He also offers some very sobering advice about pulling the trigger.
In “The Gravest Extreme” – first published in 1980 – Ayoob has this to say about trying to run down a suspected criminal:
If he has given up the combat in earnest, don’t pursue him (forget that vaguely worded law in your state that may seem to allow you to use deadly force in capturing a felon). …
Your quarry could not claim self-defense if he had hurt you in the initial struggle, since he as in the wrong and self-defense is a privilege reserved for the innocent. But after he made an obvious attempt to desist and escape, that conflict ended.
Now, as you pursue him, remember that when you catch up you will not necessarily be continuing the initial confrontation, but in the eyes of the law, opening a new one ¬– opening a confrontation in which the criminal will be blameless since you, not he, are not the aggressor. He is trying to avoid the combat, and you are now carrying the fight to him … he now possesses the privilege of self-defense.
A cornerstone of a legitimate claim of self-defense is the innocence of the claimant. He must be entirely without fault. If he has begun the conflict or quarrel, or if he has kept it going or escalated it when it lay in his power to abort it before it became a killing situation, he shares a degree of culpability.
It is a widespread and dangerous misconception that all criminals are fair game for the bullets of the good guys. A basic principle of American justice holds that a bad man has the same rights as a good man. When the pursuer lets his own sense of justice determine whether the chased is a man with the same rights as his, or a target of opportunity, the stage has been set for tragedy.
Responsible gun owners ought to know these principles by heart. Anyone who’s surprised by them has no business being anywhere close to a firearm.