Thursday, June 29, 2006
Shot By Both Sides 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
From CBS2 Chicago, a news story of a burglar who was shot and killed with his own weapon after a confrontation with the home's owner who'd just returned to the premises:
Police say there are no plans to file charges against a homeowner who killed a man during a home invasion. The incident occurred on Wednesday afternoon around 4:30 p.m. Police say the homeowner was walking back to his home in the 1600 block of West 38th Place when he saw a man with a shotgun breaking into his garage. The men struggled, and the homeowner said the gun went off, hitting the burglar in the head. The homeowner was not injured.
That homeowner was incredibly lucky - but, I must say, incredibly foolhardy for confronting an armed individual (while himself unarmed) breaking into his garage, instead of calling police or 911. At the very least, this case illustrates the unpredictable nature of arming oneself against crime. Here, the criminal was carrying a gun, while the burglary victim homeowner was not, but the burglar ended up dead from a blast from his own gun used against him. However, the reverse could just as easily happened, had the armed homeowner been confronted by an unarmed burglar bold enough to grab and struggle with the weapon.

Homeowners of course have the right to defend themselves against home intruders, but courts have been split on the legitimate use of lethal force by citizens. Chicago itself has some of the nation's strictest regulations on firearms possession - perhaps too strict - while others say the laws in the city still don't go far enough. The logic of the popular motto "if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns" is a bit garbled (at worst, it's circular reasoning), what proponents usually mean is to say is that if firearm possession itself is criminalized, only real criminals - the "bad guys" who don't give a damn about laws, anyway - will have guns. Which is on its face, true, but in practice there are always some otherwise law-abiding citizens who keep firearms for personal protection regardless of statutes.

Courts around the country have generally ruled that lethal force is justified only when the occupants of a residence reasonably feel their lives are in danger - as in a home intrusion, where robbers enter into presently occupied living quarters. Most courts (some states excepted, notably Florida's "Stand Your Ground" and Colorado's "Make My Day" laws, which have codified broad latitude in citizen use of lethal force if one "reasonably believes" believes a crime is about to be committed) would determine a homeowner was not justified in shooting someone attempting to intrude into their home, or outside the home, especially if the occupants were not in the building at the time.

While this particular incident doesn't genuinely qualify as an example of the "Castle Doctrine" in action (and I don't feel that any charges should be sought against the Chicago homeowner in this case) had the individual in this instance used his own personal weapon to shoot an burglar outside his home, charges would likely have been filed - here in Chicago.

Personally, I'm of mixed opinion on this issue. There's a big difference between unlawful entry on a 30-acre ranch in Colorado, where authorities are at least 20 minutes away, if you can raise one on the phone - and a burglary or home invasion in a highly populated urban area where firearm discharge has a higher probability of injuring or killing an innocent bystander. It's hard to achieve national, state, or even local consensus on the issue, where one person's home defense is another's vigilantism, but one thing is certain. Laws regarding guns - and the proper time and place to use them - will be an ongoing hot debate for the foreseeable future, often clashing in unforeseen ways, such as when the new police "No Knock" regulations meet the Castle Doctrine.