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by Gila Hayes

A second degree murder conviction has been returned against the upstate New Yorker who last April, hearing several cars and a motorcycle coming up his driveway, stepped out with a shotgun and fired twice, killing a passenger in one of the cars. His defense, according to news from the trial, claimed that the first shot was loosed intentionally to discourage advancing farther, but he blamed the second on his shotgun, which he testified “went off” when he tripped and dropped it.

Sentencing is expected in about a month and could put the homeowner in prison for 25 years to life if the prosecution gets its stated wish for the maximum sentence.

Earlier in April of 2023, an 84-year old Kansas man shot a teenager when he mistook a teen’s actions, reaching to open his storm door, as aggressive intrusion into his home. His case won’t go to trial until this fall.

Both say they acted out of fear. One was “scared to death;” the other thought his house was under siege. We were not there, so it is not our place to suggest their fear was not real.

We can, however, reconsider the reaction to finding a stranger knocking on the front door or coming up the driveway. Circumstances under which a gun is the right response remains a topic of concern to Network members, as indicated by half a dozen questions sent in for our January YouTube LiveStream Q & As about using guns to eject trespassers and squatters or to stop car prowl, to scatter protesters blocking public streets and other offenses related to property, not to one’s own bodily well-being.

I’m a strong advocate for keeping a gun on one’s person even when we’re at home behind locked doors, but that does not translate into meeting every unknown situation with a gun in hand. Go back to an earlier edition of this journal and read Massad Ayoob’s outline of the elements that must be present before using deadly force against another person–ability, opportunity and jeopardy. In that interview, he discussed the term “manifest intent,” a crucial part of the problem we are discussing here.

The New York and Kansas shootings, vividly illustrate the problems with bringing out a gun before it is clear that we or those in our care are in danger of death or serious injury.

Are you frightened by the possible danger or are you facing a manifest danger of death or serious injury at that very moment?

Do you really have to open the door? Intercoms, doorbell cameras and other options exist for this very reason.

Have you encountered trespassers while outside your home on acreage or in an expansive back yard? Turn first to alternatives like taking cover and giving verbal warnings to leave.

“Going to guns” before a genuine threat materializes creates many problems, and will probably put the New York homeowner in prison and likely has stripped the elderly Kansas man of his gun rights while he awaits trial. Neither increased their safety by meeting trespassers with a gun in his hand.

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