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A burglar, a boy, and bullets aplenty: how not to respond when life isn’t at stake.

A burglar, a boy, and bullets aplenty: how not to respond when life isn’t at stake.

A couple of weeks back social media was all abuzz at the case of an 11-year-old “hero” who shot a burglar. Now I know we’ve all seen “Home Alone” and cheered when little Kevin McAllister (Macaulay Caulkin) got the best of the would-be burglars, but in this case there’s much less to celebrate.

The news reports I’ve read differ slightly in the details, and frankly the boy’s story appears to keep changing, but what is consistent is that a burglar broke into the boy’s house while he was home (presumably alone.) The burglar became aware of the boy while carrying a clothes hamper and heading for the exit. The kid fired 12 rounds at him as he ran out the door, hitting him only once (in the leg as he reportedly was climbing over a fence.) Where the other 11 rounds landed is as yet unknown.

The reaction from too many people in the shooting community was “good job!”, “way to go!”, and other such nonsense. While I applaud his courage, his actions were nothing we should be celebrating; if he’d killed the burglar he’d likely be facing a manslaughter charge, and with good reason.

There are many issues with his actions, but the primary one is that he shot at what by all accounts was not a lethal threat. The burglar had both hands tied up carrying a clothes hamper and was already out of the house, according to various news accounts, when the boy started shooting. According to his own media interviews the burglar was in fact climbing over the fence when the single round struck him in the leg, a fact which greatly pleased the pint-sized pistolero (sorry, I just couldn’t resist!)

It’s not about when you can shoot, it’s about when you should

Here’s the reality: unless there’s something major that the boy isn’t telling anyone — and it would be hard to believe that there was, given the number of interviews he’s gleefully had — there was nothing in their interaction which would justify the use of lethal force. There just wasn’t. The burglar did not appear to have had the ability (outside of, perhaps, a difference in size) to harm the child; with his hands full and his back to the child he didn’t have the opportunity to use force against the kid; and his actions (running out the door and climbing over a fence) were not indicative of an intention to use any force, meaning that there was no jeopardy present. Shooting at the guy was probably the wrong course of action, because the child could not have been in immediate fear of death or grave bodily harm — the standard litmus test of whether lethal force is warranted.

Frankly, praising the boy for doing the wrong thing (shooting at someone who isn’t a threat is wrong in the adult world) is irresponsible. We should be using his case to spark discussions about the proper use of lethal force, not reveling in testosterone-fueled displays of ignorance. The kid was wrong to do what he did, just as his parents would be if they’d done it; the difference is that he doesn’t have enough education in the realities of life to understand that yet. That’s the fault of his parents.

(Speaking of irresponsible: who leaves an unsecured and loaded pistol around a child who clearly doesn’t understand the ramifications of handling it?)

Have you talked about responsible use of force with your children?

If you expect your children to defend themselves with the firearms you keep for home defense, of course they need to know how to operate them efficiently; the guns themselves need to be operable by smaller-statured, less trained individuals. (This is why I’m a big fan of pistol caliber carbines, because they’re just so easy to shoot and hit with compared to a handgun.) What’s more, though, is that your kids need to understand when and why they can use lethal force. They can’t start blasting just because someone is stealing their parents’ laundry; there has to be a reasonable threat to their lives. You need to understand these principles yourself, and then be able to translate them into terms your kids will understand. If they’re old enough to have access to your defensive firearms, they need to be old enough to understand the ramifications of using them inappropriately.

I don’t have children, so I can’t guide you in this regard. Frankly, I haven’t really seen any good resources for this, either; it would seem that your best course of action is to learn those concepts well yourself — as I mentioned on Wednesday, by taking a class from Massad Ayoob. Then you can translate those concepts into terms that your own kids can understand.

It’s important that they don’t turn out like this kid: spraying uncontrolled bullets around the neighborhood at a burglar trying to get away and absent any justifiable reason for doing so in the first place. As I said before, I admire his courage but I don’t admire his ignorance — even less so that of the people praising him for opening fire when he most likely shouldn’t have.

Teach your kids well.

– Grant Cunningham


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On May 20, 2016
Tags: attacks

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