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Editor’s Notebook

GHayesby Gila Hayes

Recently I spoke by phone with a non-member who called to decry warnings about the aftermath of using a gun in self defense that he called “mythologies.” He had a copy of the Network’s booklet What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know About Self-Defense Law but did not go so far as to suggest that it was inaccurate.

“All I want is a yes or a no answer,” he demanded. “Is there any law anywhere in the United States that specifically says you cannot shoot an unarmed person? Can you show me a law that makes it illegal to shoot someone in the back? That is what I’d do if I was behind someone who was beating up a woman,” he asserted.

Could I have gotten a word in edgewise, I would have liked to ask, “What if that woman had been the aggressor earlier? How would you know?” And that is only one possible example. Here’s the larger problem: written laws cannot cite all the specific circumstances that justify use of deadly force. Might one not find that, when in the face of a specific, extenuating circumstance, one course of action would be legal, but the same acts are criminal with only minor variations to the scenario?

Specifying acceptable distances, bodily orientation, numbers of shots and the myriad of other details present in armed self defense is considerably more exhaustive than state criminal codes could possibly encompass. Imagine the miles of bookshelves that such detailed law would require! Even digitized, imagine the impenetrable word count through which no one could possibly read before punishing or acquitting a shooter who asserted justification. And what would happen in a situation that had not been imagined by the legislators who composed such specific limits on acceptable use of force? Such specificity in state and national laws would be terrible!

The alternative is the system under which we currently function, one of broad laws governing use of force against which an individual’s actions are evaluated by judges and juries.

When reminded of the jury’s role, he interrupted, “No! All I want is a yes or no answer: is there a law?” Apparently he found those grey areas misleading. Does the absence of specific prohibition assure an acquittal on an assault, manslaughter or murder charge? In demanding, simple yes and no answers, he ignores the human elements in the legal system that applies our laws to all the variations of human behavior.

While the subject differed, I heard echoes of what I wished the gentleman on the phone could accept in the “reality check” posted recently on the Network’s Facebook page (if you’re not part of these discussions, to which several of our affiliated attorneys contribute extensively, browse over and ask to join

Network Advisory Board member James Fleming, in discussion about how many shots fired constituted reasonable force, wrote, “Naturally, in many cases, the prosecutor is going to argue that the shooting was unjustified and that multiple shots are evidence of excessive force. That’s what they do, particularly those whose bosses stand for election and rely upon the support of law enforcement endorsements to gain re-election. Fair? Who is naive enough to think that ‘fair’ has anything to do with this? Juries decide, based upon the evidence that they are ‘allowed’ to see and hear, whether multiple shots are justified or excessive force. And the Rules of Evidence are a real slug in the mouth for those who don’t understand them, and work with them every day.”

Fleming concludes, “When I read some of the comments by the armchair commandos with their sexy bangsticks about what they would do in a self-defense situation, I just cringe. Because they are obviously ignorant of the living hell that is going to rain down upon their shoulders if they ever have the misfortune to be involved in a shooting.”

Listen to Mr. Fleming, Network members! Just because there is no specific law prohibiting shots in the back or shooting an unarmed assailant does not mean that you will get a free pass and a pat on the back for using deadly force in those circumstances. There is a lot more to the law than what is written in the state and federal codes.
[End of June 2014 eJournal.
Please return next month for our July 2014 edition.]