As promised, in this post, I am going to explore the idea of Castle Doctrine. This is a section of some state's gun laws that allows for a person to protect themselves and their homes from an intruder who intends to harm them. In the wording of some laws, it is assumed that the defender will retreat first. In fact it is the responsibility of the person defending themselves in certain states to do just that. The problem with the laws are in dealing with the aftermath of the cases where justifiable homicide was claimed. It turns out that the law is used successfully in most cases. " In a legal context, therefore, use of deadly force which actually results in death may be defended as justifiable homicide under the Castle Doctrine."( from the link above).
31 states have a form of Castle Doctrine law that grants immunity from legal action under the justifiable homicide provision of the laws. In Minnesota, not one case of justifiable homicide has resulted in someone going to jail for protecting themselves. Minnesota law already allows deadly force to protect oneself and loved ones in one’s home. The law states: "The intentional taking of the life of another is not authorized by section 609.06, except when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor's place of abode." "
Several cases in Minnesota are notable here. One is Gerald Whaley of Coon Rapids, Minnesota. " Whaley said he grabbed the loaded .22-caliber single-shot rifle that he keeps near his bed. When a man carrying a flashlight suddenly came into his room, Whaley fired a single shot." The intruder was unarmed. This one was considered justifiable homicide by the authorities. Another Minnesota case, Eric Cegon, shot his girlfriend's former partner in a justifiable homicide situation. In this linked article, read about the aftermath of the killing, " But he and Simons, 22, both say they have endured nightmares and violent flashbacks ever since." For both Cegon and his girlfriend,(Simons), life has been difficult after the shooting.
Back to my wondering whether extending the Castle Doctrine laws already in place are a good idea. In Minnesota, a proposed law would have unintended consequences as are pointed out in this editorial in the Star Tribune. " Giving people carte blanche can encourage vigilantes and promote even more gunplay while weakening police powers. According to a state police official, it's unreasonable to support laws that give citizens more authority to use force than cops." A lawyer friend puts it this way: "
The revision would give citizens more legal leeway to shoot or kill anyone they perceive as a threat. On the street or any other public place, there would no longer be an obligation to try to avoid trouble before using a gun in self defense. And the proposal would lower the standard for firing from fear of "great'' harm to fear of "substantial'' harm." Lowering standards of proof in cases of killing another human being seems to me to be a bad idea. What if it turned the other way and was used to get someone off "scott free" who shot a loved one or a good friend of yours?
"It's been very traumatic. It's been awful. I'm scared to go somewhere people may recognize me," he said. "To be in a situation where you have to take two lives to save your own, you have no idea. "There's too many imponderables in this law, whereas the previous law was working just fine," Warren Diepraam, the Harris County Assistant District Attorney, told ABC a few months ago. "Frankly, life is precious."" From Horn's point of view: " "You're listening to a man that is scared and alone," Horn said. "That is a man that has never, never been in any kind of situation like this in his entire life" and that his talk was more bravado than anything else."
So because Texas has adopted a version of what some on my side call "Shoot First" or "Stand Your Ground" law, Joe Horn killed two people because of what he admits to be fear and then bravado. Would he have killed these two people if he had not had his gun in his hand? The answer is pretty obvious. He called 911 as he should have. The operator urged him not to shoot and said the police would take care of it. Indeed, there was an officer nearby ready to intervene. But because people think they have the right to act first and ask or be asked questions later, these situations have now begun to occur in other states where these new extended Castle Doctrine laws are in place. As the law enforcement officer interviewed in the linked article said, the old law worked fine. Why change it to now allow for lives to be taken with no accounting for the consequences? Did these two people need to be shot for what they were doing? They certainly needed to be stopped and arrested which would likely have happened given the 911 call details.
There are considerations to be made when thinking of defending yourself and/or your home with deadly force. Here is a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that should give pause to those who believe they will need to use deadly force in situations involving home invasions. How about the use of violence in home invasions? : ".. about seven percent (266,560) involved some form of violent victimization". What about armed invaders? " Offenders were unarmed in 61 percent of the violent household burglaries that occurred between 2003 and 2007. In 12 percent of violent household burglaries the offender possessed a firearm. About 23 percent of these firearm-related burglaries were committed by a stranger." Most home invasions ( burglaries) occur when no one is at home,(73%) " The rate of household burglary when someone was home remained stable between 2000 (9 per 1,000 households) and 2007 (8 per 1,000 households)." Considering this data then, what has the pro gun folks so freaked out about needing fire power such as large capacity ammunition magazines for home protection? Given the reality of home invasions based on the study above, there is really no justification for such an arsenal for defense. Reasonable measures can be taken. Another blog, New Trajectory has offered some great ideas for protecting yourself. Here they are. The blogger offers alternatives to using a gun, such as home security systems, a dog, locking all doors and windows, being aware and knowing your neighbors, motion sensing lights, etc. These are good suggestions and none will require taking another life. If all else fails, self defense with a gun, if considered necessary, can be used, if you happen to own a gun.
This does not mean that I or the people on the gun control side are saying that defense of the home is not necessary or right. Many people have guns in their homes for self defense or stored for hunting and recreational use. Some store their guns, loaded, next to their beds. Some do not lock their guns in anticipation of needing them in a split second. Yes, some cases occur that would make this necessary. Again, though, justifiable homicide provisions are in place in state laws. So to expand these provisions to allow someone to take another human life without facing any consequences once a review of the case is made, does not make sense.
Differing points of view exist, of course. This article about the law in South Carolina offers a good explanation of the opposing sides of the law.Between 2005 and 2009, the number of justifiable homicides by private citizens rose about 33 percent nationwide, from 196 to 261, according to FBI statistics." " These numbers make me wonder, then, if the new "Stand Your Ground Laws" have worked to the advantage of those who would otherwise have been charged rightly with homicide and are now getting away with murder. We may never know. Those who like the laws claim that it would stop the criminal, person in the wrong and/or their families in a home invasion case or self defense case from filing financial claims against the person who used a weapon in self defense. There may some rationale for wanting to protect the assets and integrity of someone against wrongful death claims if they are not legitimate. But I thought we had courts which would hear such claims and judges and juries could determine whether the claims are false or spurious. And in the cases of justifiable homicide, as mentioned in the linked article above, courts also most often side with the home owner over the criminal.
So I still have many questions that are unanswered. Why is it necessary to expand the provisions of the law? Why has the pro gun side found that what already exists is just not enough justification for homicide? In other words, what is this all about anyway? Is there common sense to extending the rights of gun owners to shoot to kill under the presumption that there is intent to harm? Does a gun owner have a right to shoot a person breaking into his car in the driveway when the person is not intending physical harm to the home owner? Does a home owner have a right to shoot a "stranger" who is trick or treating on Halloween night and is mistaken for someone intending harm? This famous case of the Japanese exchange student, Yoshi Hattori, is a case for leaving the Castle Doctrine provisions as they are without giving someone a reason to shoot to kill. "There was no thinking involved," she testified at her husband's manslaughter trial." There may not be time to think fast enough in these cases but ask yourself what you would have done in the same circumstances. Would you have shot to kill? Would you have had time to see if this person had a weapon? Would you have thought to use a gun? On Halloween night when there are lots of people coming to your door, would you suspect someone of wanting to do harm? There are a lot of questions here. A young man's life was taken. The shooter did not have to serve time or suffer consequences.
Is this case justifiable homicide falling under the Florida "Stand Your Ground" law? Would you take out your legally owned gun in public and threaten to shoot neighbor boys who are annoying you with their skateboarding? Would you then shoot to kill a neighbor who defends the skateboarders? Do you think the shooter should get away with murder in this case? " "It's a senseless act that didn't need to happen. The man knew what he was doing and we want the man arrested. DJ was a good man and loving towards his family. He spent 20 years in the military in both Desert Storm and the Gulf War and Danielle lost her best friend and she says she will miss him very much especially the motorcycle rides."" The victim was shot in front of his 9 year old daughter. Was this "standing your ground" or "shoot first/ask questions later"?
So when the pro gun guys on my blog challenge me about my stance towards "stand your ground" or "shoot first" laws, these are my thoughts and some facts to back them up. If they can justify that shooting to kill is necessary in the cases I have provided, I want to hear it. If they can justify that the people who shot to kill should not have been held accountable for their actions, I want to hear it. If they can tell me why the current Castle Doctrine laws now in place in many states and were in place in the states that have extended the laws to give people immunity from prosecution, I want to hear about that,too. I'm sure I will. Meanwhile, use common sense everyone. Lives may depend on it.
Welcome to Common Gunsense
I hope this blog will provoke some thoughtful reflection about the issue of guns and gun violence. I am passionate about the issue and would love to change some misperceptions and the culture of gun violence in America by sharing with readers words, photos, videos and clips from articles to promote common sense about gun issues. Many of you will agree with me- some will not. I am only one person but one among many who think it's time to do something about this national problem. The views expressed by me in this blog do not represent any group with which I am associated but are rather my own personal opinions and thoughts.