While I was in Connecticut the last few days, I read two stories of stupid people using guns: one in my own state of Oregon, where a fellow had his gun confiscated because he fired a warning shot at a suspected burglar; and another in my neighboring state of Washington where someone shot and killed a thief who was taking his car.
In both cases the shooters were quite obviously uneducated as to the responsibilities that go with their right to keep and bear arms. Together they show us that we are sometimes our own worst enemy.
Neither incident met the classic definition of when it is legally permissible to use lethal force: when you are faced with imminent and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily injury due to the actions of another. In Oregon, the shooter heard someone trying to break in his back door and fired a warning shot to scare the presumed thief away. In Washington, the shooter left his car idling in his driveway with the keys in the ignition when the thief jumped in to steal it – then shot at the fleeing vehicle, killing the thief.
In neither case, if the information we have now is correct, did the situation warrant firing a shot or even presenting a firearm. Warning shots are always a stupid idea, and shooting at someone who is running away with your possessions is almost always against the law. Lethal force is to be reserved for those cases where your life is in immediate danger, not in cases like this.
What is more disturbing is the way certain segments of the (presumably) law-abiding firearms community reacted to each of the cases. In the Oregon incident much was made about the fact that the shooter was a military vet and that it was somehow wrong to confiscate a veteran’s rifle over a ‘mere’ warning shot. The sad fact is that he broke the law; he recklessly endangered the people around him, and he used a weapon illegally by discharging it when it wasn’t necessary to do so. The charges he’s facing are legitimate, because he abrogated his responsibilities as a gun owner.
In the Washington case the shooter has far fewer defenders, largely because the person who was stealing his car died of his wounds. Still, there are those who decry the fact that the shooter is being charged with First Degree Manslaughter for protecting his property. Again, a little education would have gone a long way: shooting at a fleeing felon, except in a few very rare and very specific instances, is not lawful behavior. This instance was a mere property crime, and doesn’t even begin to approach the legal standards regarding fleeing felons.
These cases illustrate why I believe that your legal education is as important as your shooting education. For years I’ve recommended that everyone who has a gun for self protection take Massad Ayoob’s two-day class in the judicious use of lethal force (MAG-20/Classroom.) Ayoob’s class is the closest thing we have a to a gold standard in the shooting world, recommended by a wide variety of shooting authorities who may never agree on anything else. If you haven’t taken that class, make the investment. Had these two uneducated gun owners taken that class, I doubt that either would be facing the serious repercussions of their thoughtless actions.
Another way to provide for your own legal education is to join the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network. Aside from their financial and legal support in the aftermath of a self-defense shooting, membership comes with a seven-hour DVD course on the legalities of self defense. The DVDs are from recognized experts in the field, and have been vetted by attorneys who specialize in self defense cases. Highly recommended.
It’s painful to see one of our own suffer for his poor judgement, but as responsible gun owners we can neither support nor defend their reckless actions. They can and should be used as object lessons for the rest of us: with rights come responsibilities, and being ignorant of the law will get you into trouble. Take Ayoob’s class; join the ACLDN. Learn what you can and cannot do with your gun before something like either of these cases happens to you.
-=[ Grant ]=-