So there you are. You’ve surprised three felons about to burglarize your property. Fortunately, you have your handgun with you, and when you confront them as an armed homeowner, the three felons very sensibly turn tail and flee.
Great. So far, so good. Bravo.
But what happens next can completely change your day if you’re not careful. There you are – heart pounding, blood surging, adrenalin levels off the scale, full of righteous anger, and your gun is in your hand. Maybe you even have some vague fuzzy perception that it is legal to shoot after felons, perhaps because you are ‘in hot pursuit’ or something like that.
Do you shoot after the bad guys? Or do you carefully holster your handgun and call the police?
Don’t just answer this question in the calm and comfort of where and how you’re reading this. Try and really put yourself in the scene, and understand how you’d be thinking and reacting.
Now – the answer. Would you shoot after the bad guys?
If you answered ‘yes’, go take a cold shower. Then come back and please continue reading.
If you answered ‘no’, congratulations, but don’t relax. Drill that ‘I must not shoot’ thought hard into your brain, so that when the situation actually occurs and you’re operating more on instinct and emotion, your rational self can still fight away the blood lust and desire for vengeance and correctly guide your actions.
Don’t just take our word for it. Read this short news item about a homeowner in a scenario pretty much as we just depicted. He did the wrong thing, and got locked up for it, and now is facing an expensive journey through the legal system, with the only certain thing in his future being tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, many sleepless nights full of worry, and possibly – probably – a criminal conviction on his record and maybe even some prison time.
Two things to remember :
First : Your state may or may not have a long laundry list of situations in which it might be legal to use lethal force. But the only one of these which is likely to be unimpeachable is when you or your loved ones are staring certain death or severe injury in the face, and you have absolutely utterly no way to avoid that outcome, other than to use the least amount of deadly force possible. All the others are less black and white, and you can find yourself trapped in very unpleasant grey.
As soon as you retreat away from that ‘worst case’ scenario, you start to facing a growing subsequent alternate worst case scenario – either criminal and/or civil action against you after your shooting. Depending on the jurisdiction you live in, your state’s laws on deadly force may be interpreted permissively or restrictively, and concepts such as ‘what would a reasonable man be expected to do in the circumstances’ could be answered – in a court of law – in very different ways.
Remember also that juries are fickle. You can never guarantee what verdict a jury will reach. Get a couple of vociferous anti-gun people, a few others who believe that ‘nothing can ever justify taking a human life’, and have the others basically conciliatory and passive, and before you know where you are, you’re guilty of whatever the prosecutor has decided to throw at you.
Maybe the local community is currently experiencing a backlash against some gun tragedy somewhere in the country, and it is just your bad luck to be the recipient of that backlash. Maybe you are white and shot at black criminals, and the case has been perverted into a cause celebre for ‘black rights’ and you are made to look like a racist rather than an ordinary homeowner. And so on and so on.
The bottom line : Any shooting may have extremely unfair criminal and civil consequences. Avoid the risk of such consequences, by avoiding the need to shoot.
Second : Go stand in your driveway and imagine yourself doing like the guy in the news story did, shooting at the would-be burglars as they make their getaway. Now look carefully at what is in the background. What do you see – and also what are behind the bushes and fences that you can’t see (but which your bullets can reach)? Houses. Apartments. Cars. And, most of all, people.
In most residential areas, there’s no such thing as a safe direction to shoot in. Even if your shots hit the bad guys, they might still travel through and on and cause other damage elsewhere. Police departments regularly average $10,000 and up, for every shot fired by their officers, in terms of the costs they incur repairing the damage from the rounds expended. You can expect the same, and it will be money out of your own pocket, because your insurance will refuse to cover you.
Here’s the unfair thing (and – get this – everything about these types of situations is unfair, right from the get go). If you hold your front door open for the burglars and help them carry away all your gear; insurance will reimburse you as per the policy you have. They see that as an accident or event you have no control over.
But if you protect your property and shoot at the burglars, the insurance company won’t thank you for acting to reduce the amount of loss they have to pay out. Instead, they say this was a deliberate act on your part, not an accident or random piece of bad luck, and they’ll refuse to reimburse you any of the costs you might incur as a result of where the bullets went and the damage they caused.
Dirty Harry never had to worry about these things. He was a policeman, more or less acting, on duty, as employed to do. Sure, the mayor and his superiors would often berate him for the damage he caused, but Harry never had to pay any of that himself. The city and the police department, and all their attorneys, would run interference for him.
You have none of this behind you. Instead, it will all be ranged in front of you and against you.
Bottom line? Don’t shoot, unless you have no choice, and it is the only option open to you, and necessary to save you or your loved ones from imminent and severe harm or death. And force yourself to stop shooting as soon as the situation changes.
Update : The citizen who shot at the fleeing burglars ended up agreeing to a plea bargain. He has given a guilty plea, and is receiving a $700 fine, must take a weapons safety class, and has been required to forfeit his handgun. Maybe he got off lightly, depending on your perspective. Add the incarceration, now having an arrest and criminal record, and thousands of dollars in attorney fees, and those two shots truly changed his life. Details here.