Monday, February 27, 2006

Shooting blanks on the "shoot first law"

A recent article in the Detroit Free Press by Chris Christoff is an all-too-typical example of how the media reports on gun rights. The bill in question would eliminate the "duty to retreat" in current self-defense law as well as eliminate lawsuits in the case of justified shootings.

Here's how Christoff describes it: "The state Senate is to begin hearings Tuesday on how to commit to law the kind of public behavior the gun lobby views as an expression of freedom: Shoot first and ask questions later."

This is nonsense, of course. Nothing in the proposed law would allow you to shoot without a reasonable belief that your life is in imminent danger.

He continues: "Justifiable homicide would become less complicated. No longer would law-abiding, gun-toting citizens have to consider alternatives in the face of bodily harm, such as fleeing the scene or calling police."

What sense does this make? Consider the situation. Someone is trying to kill you. You are seconds away from death. With not a moment to lose, you...

..whip out your cell phone and call the police! At this point, it seems appropriate to quote the title of a documentary produced by the group Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership: "Dial 911 and Die."

Any serious consideration must lead to the conclusion that the police cannot protect you against imminent harm. That is not their job. The job of police is to investigate crimes and apprehend criminals. To the extent that they are successful, they "protect" you by locking up some bad guys and deterring others. But if some criminal decides to attack you, the police cannot protect you. That is your job.

What about the other alternative, fleeing the scene? Many current state laws contain a "duty to retreat." Of course, retreating typically means turning your back to an attacker, which could easily put you at greater risk. That's why state laws typically contain some provision stating that retreat is only required if it can be done in complete safety. Of course, there is no such thing as complete safety.

The issue is not whether you should consider your alternatives, assuming you even have time to do so. The issue is whether you should be sent to jail if somebody doesn't like your choice. Laws such as the duty to retreat tend to be applied arbitrarily, as people later second-guess choices made in the heat of the moment.

The column quotes a member of the Brady Bunch as saying that the law could let gang members off and that innocent people aren't being sent to jail. I've read many examples of morally justified people who did go to jail for shooting in self-defense, although I'm too tired to find any of them now. Such cases aren't common, but they do happen.

The gang member argument is a red herring. There is nothing in our current law that stops a gang member from claiming self defense. Believe it or not, even gang members have the right to self defense as long as they are not actively committing a crime at the time. Having a subjective duty to retreat in the law isn't going to help. Proving murder would require the same sort of evidence that it usually does.

I read another article recently in which another Brady type was quoted as saying that this bill will bring back the wild west, complete with blood running in the streets: "Some critics say such "Wild West" laws are vigilante justice, and commonplace confrontations and more likely turn to violence." At what point are you wrong so much that you lose any credibility whatsoever? Anti-gunners say the same thing about every pro-gun bill, and it never happens. Never! Many states already have laws like this and they haven't had any problems with them. Quoting the Brady Bunch about gun control is like quoting David Duke about civil rights.

As for the argument about changing the character of society, God forbid that criminals should run from honest citizens instead of citizens running from criminals.

What's really terrible about this column isn't that it's wrong about a question of policy. Instead, what's worst is that if (as I expect) this bill becomes law, God forbid that anyone actually believes what he reads in the Free Press. If he does, we really could see a situation where someone thinks he can shoot somebody he doesn't like. Then we really would have an innocent victim and an (otherwise) honest citizen in jail. Liberal lies come with a high price.

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