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When “self-defense” isn’t self-defense

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on June 18, 2010 at 6:55 pm with 17 Comments »
June 18, 2010 6:59 pm

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.

Leave a comment Comments → 17
  1. tubbythetuba says:

    Pat, respectfully, your use of the discription “clowns” pretty much shows where you are coming from vis-a-vis your opinion of gun owners. Mr. Ayoob is indeed an expert. What he is talking about is protecting yourself in the eyes of the law. The laws that have been twisted and perverted into total rights for criminals and zero rights for victims. The laws and justice that see criminals sue victims because they got hurt. The laws and justice that see felons sue cops for “hurting” them. The laws that allow a thief to sue and collect from a homeowner because he got hurt while breaking into the house. The reason you got so many pro comments for the shooter is not because we are “clowns”, Sir, it’s because we are sick and fed up with the “law and justice” system the ACLU and well meaning Liberals have foisted upon this country. I hold that if thieves and crooks had an expectation of being shot or killed while they are plying their trade, the crime rate would drop to very low figures. Allowing felons to believe they may have some sort of an edge in criminal court and then a valid tort in civil court does everything for the criminal and nothing for victims. This “clown” wishes that victims had rights and criminals could be delt with in and out of the court system.

  2. Tubby, you’ve never had the right to murder someone. Unless you are protecting yourself, shooting a person and killing them is exactly that. Your right to own a gun does not make you judge, jury, and executioner. This isn’t the Wild West.

  3. tubbythetuba says:

    Derek, you are assuming facts not yet in evidence inre the Shooter in this case. If they had a case, they would not have let the man go. When he is found guilty, I will support that decision. The rest of my statement is my opinion and I hold to it. You are in error ASSuming what I would do in any particular case or situation.

  4. derekyoung says:

    The facts are already evident. He killed a man. It wasn’t self-defense. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if it was his property, someone else’s property, or whatever. You can’t kill someone for theft. You can’t kill people for trespassing.

    The 2nd Amendment does not grant the right to take a life when you are wronged.

  5. tubbythetuba says:

    You Say: The facts are already evident. He killed a man. It wasn’t self-defense.

    So…you have decided that your opinion can replace a jury trial? It might not even go to a trial, that’s how shaky the “evidence” is. IF he goes to trial, and IF he is found guilty, THEN what you say is valid. Until then, my OPINION is just as valid as yours.

  6. tubbythetuba says:

    BTW, Derek, did you know that the Second Amendment was written, as was all the Bill of Rights, to protect The People from the Government when it was no longer doing the will of the people? Also, in the real world, a gun is fired to kill. Period.

  7. tubbythetuba says:

    And after several days, Patrick won’t engage…another drive-by opinion.

  8. derekyoung says:

    No, the 2nd Amendment was not written to protect the People from the government. The explicit purpose of the 2nd Amendment is stated within it. It’s to form militia and defend the country. In fact the Constitution itself is a reaction to Shay’s Rebellion. They believed a strong central government was needed to put down such rebellions. After it’s adoption Washington personally led an army to stop the Whiskey Rebellion.

    And no, it’s not a matter of opinion. It’s the law. Perhaps he did have a legit self-defense claim. Or maybe there isn’t enough evidence to prosecute. The TNT is talking about the reaction that is stating that he was right to shoot and kill someone for stealing. THAT isn’t ok. It’s illegal and for good reason.

  9. Parkland says:

    An extremely lazy editorial, Notice how O’Callahan writes, “Follow the comments and you’ll learn that:”, instead of some actual examples. This allows O’Callahan the freedom to follow up with a bunch of non-quoted, non-attributed bullet points with he own editorial comment added to each one for effect. (“…so the kid deserved to get shot.”)

    This is poor journalism, even for an opinion journalist, at best, and at worst, which is my opinion, it’s a convoluted hit piece on those who dare question the TNT’s pre-emptive infection of the jury pool when they tried the guy on the op-ed page last week.

  10. Parkland says:

    And one other thing regarding Ayoob, he is an expert who has been called as such many times in trial cases involving lethal self defense, and, having subscriptions to many firearm related mags through the years, I’ve read Ayoob’s opinions extensively. Ayoob’s advice is _always_ the lowest common denominator, i.e., when writing opinion in a journal, Ayoob will advise tactics that will get you by no matter what state you’re in. Once, he advised against using hollow point bullets; some court case back east found a guy guilty of manslaughter because, get this, he’d had hollow points, which rather than merely disengaging the shooter from the bad guy, clearly showed the intent to kill. So, while I agree that Ayoob is quite an expert, his advice is sometimes geographically nebulous, rather than specific to local law.

  11. tubbythetuba says:

    Ah, Derek….a Militia waged war on our first Government (England) and the framers of the Constitution expected armed citizens to be ready to do it again if necessary. The Bill of Rights are clearly laws and demands that the Government follow the will of the people. The 2nd Amendment is the teeth to that Bill of Rights. Check this out:

    You can also find much better and further extended arguments in The Federalist Papers….Google Federalist Papers and Gun Rights.

    For example, Thomas Jefferson: 1787 Nov. 13. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”

    The unfortunate circumstance we find ourselves in these days is that The People’s Rights are limited and decided upon by the same Government that we are supposed to be protected from.

  12. Patrick O'Callahan says:

    Parkland, click on the link up top to see the comments I referenced. I can’t do more than summarize in the length I have.

    I have a small library of Ayoob’s stuff on my bookshelf. He may be conservative, but he’s conservative on the side of keeping me out of prison and keeping a perp from owning my house after a lawsuit. There are juries and there are juries, and I don’t want to play roulette with one, aside from my preference not to take a human life. Ayoob’s approach seems wiser, in terms of self-interest alone, than pushing the envelope in the other direction.

    I don’t know how to respond to your posts, Tubby; I’d like to think you don’t take your own comments seriously. The justice system may be awful, but it seems to me that when we go hunting for rationales to cap bad guys, we become bad guys ourselves.

  13. tubbythetuba says:

    Patrick, you have been assuming (an awful lot of that going on here) that the man has been convicted. That’s what we have courts for. How can the guy get a fair trial when the media has him found guilty already?? If one is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, how can my comments be anything BUT accurate? Until the trial, if there is one, we are all offering opinions. I see no reason to stoop to the name calling you’ve engaged in when everyone’s opinions are equal, or should be anyway. BTW, I’ve never penned one word here that I didn’t take seriously, and I’ll bet you that I’m on the right side of opinion, but people these days are too scared to have a Label hung on them….. It probably doesn’t phase you one little bit when arguments against you. I’m sure you just think The Clowns (as you penned in the first iteration of this story) are out hot and heavy. I hope my respect for you is not misplaced when I say that I respect you more than that. Clearly, it has to be your anti-gun phobia in charge of your common sense this week.

  14. Parkland says:

    I had several comments on the thread referenced in your link, and followed the comment stream pretty close. I didn’t defend the shooter, and only brought up some legal points and logic that the TNT had missed in the original editorial, which I thought was way too activist on the side on the two kids. There were comments from others, but only a couple, from people who didn’t seem to have much sympathy for the kid who was shot, under the assumption that he was guilty of theft. Almost all of the rest of the debate was concerning the legality of the shooter. I offered some opinion as someone who is familiar with the law and very familiar with small arms. I was a navy armorer, won an award in my academy class in small arms proficiency, setting an academy scoring record, beat (then) Sgt. Steve Kemmerer who was the Pierce County small arms instructor, at the PC course out on Harts Lake Loop Road, and the NRA still considers me a ‘master’ in service rifle, to round things out. Point is, I can safely assume that I have more training and hours at the range than all of the guys on your floor put together, and when I see armchair quarterbacks accusing the guy of murder, that’s just pure B.S., none of us were there, except the other kid, who says that they offered to put back the pipe. I already punched holes in that story, and I’m just a schlub on a comment section, what do you think a good lawyer would do with that? So whatever else he says is suspect anyway. That also dovetails nicely into jumping in a car and hauling a__, and since you have holes in the front window, the shooter may be justified. He may not be; there were also holes in the rear window. But don’t try him on your op-ed page. You guys either think you have to enlighten gun owners, or you think that by printing this stuff, it’s a back door way of tampering with a potential jury. Given the number of gun owners, and given the extreme rarity of these incidents, I suspect it’s the latter.

  15. tubbythetuba says:

    Parkland – +1

  16. Novelist3 says:

    Isn’t this something like the fourth time the News Tribune has put out in print complaints about people commenting? It has to be at least that.

  17. “Red-Straw-Herring-Man (TNT) – 0
    Tubby – 8
    Parkland – 3
    This is what happens in today’s school (non) system-relevant history is dismissed and replaced with theoretical moral equivalency and called ‘journalism’…too bad links like that aren’t actually available in today’s textbooks.

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