This is not an article about gun control, it’s about controlling yourself with guns. For as a Louisiana man just found out the hard way, you may think you have the right to fire a weapon at a someone, especially a criminal, but it all depends on the situation . . .
Disclaimer: The information in this article does not, in any way, constitute legal advice. Everyone should consult their own states’ laws and/or an attorney of their choosing if they wish to obtain an expert legal opinion of the laws in their jurisdiction and how they apply to them.
When I was clerking for a State Supreme Court Justice, in addition to drafting legal memorandum and court opinions, I gave tours of the courthouse along with historical lectures. Invariably, people on the tours would ask questions about the laws and how they worked, especially the most controversial ones. Like how judges get elected or appointed, abortion, or guns laws.
As I learned quickly in law school, the law generally does not work the way it is commonly perceived or displayed on TV. I’m sorry, but you can’t get a legal education by watching Judge Judy.
So, explaining the law is sometimes tricky. A case in point. On one of my tours, a man asked a question, or rather he made a statement, that I tried to assist him with. Basically, he said that since the state was going to allow its citizens to carry concealed weapons that this would immunize anyone with a legal weapon from any form of liability. And, of course, he was wrong.
But despite my explanation of what the law stated and what it didn’t state, he refused to accept the facts that even if you are justified with using a firearm, that does not give you a license to shoot innocent bystanders if you are negligent or even shoot at criminals if the tables have been turned and you have become the aggressor and not the defender. There are good reasons for this, because if you own one of these tools you have to use it responsibly.
I will try to summarize these legal precepts based upon my state’s laws as they are written.
With a few exceptions, you are allowed to use physical force against another to the extent reasonably necessary to defend yourself or others from an aggressor if you reasonably believe the aggressor is using, or will imminently use, unlawful force against yourself or those others. But you can’t use deadly force unless, you believe it is necessary to protect yourself or others from death, serious injury or a forcible felony.
You can use deadly force if it is used against a person who unlawfully enters, or remains after unlawfully entering, or attempts to unlawfully enter a dwelling or residence that you lawfully occupy; provided that it is necessary for self defense as stated above. “A [person’s] home is their castle.”
Extension of the Castle Doctrine
The Castle Doctrine was extended to vehicles you lawfully occupy. And extended further to where you can use deadly force in the same circumstances above if you occupy private property where you’ve been given authority to occupy that property.
Stand Your Ground
There used to be a duty to retreat from a situation if you could without engaging in a confrontation, even to protect yourself. But that duty was eliminated in the following circumstances. There is no longer a duty to retreat from a dwelling or residence or vehicle or private property or any location where you have a lawful right to be.
Keep in mind, if you are standing your ground, to engage in self-defense using deadly force you must still face an imminent threat of death, serious injury, or be the victim of a forcible felony.
To sum it up, there is a bubble around you and you have the right to protect yourself within that lawfully-occupied bubble without running away, but only if you face an imminent threat.
So back to Louisiana and what you can’t do. A home invader entered the residence with a gun, stole cell phones and fired the gun at the feet of one of the occupants. The occupants gained the upper hand, took the gun, and one occupant pistol-whipped the intruder. The invader broke away and ran to his vehicle. Note, he is no longer the aggressor and no longer unlawfully inside the home. One of the occupants then opened fire on the fleeing vehicle striking the would-be robber twice.
That’s where things went awry. The occupant of the home was not under any imminent threat of physical force being used against him at the time he opened fire. There was no one else that needed protecting. The invader had fled and was no longer remaining in the residence after having unlawfully entered it. There was no longer a forcible felony occurring.
The lawful occupant that wanted to play cowboy ended up being convicted of attempted manslaughter. Understand, that doesn’t let the invader off the hook. He will still be tried for his crimes. But no one is given the license to become a criminal because of another person’s criminal acts. None of these legal doctrines offer protection from criminal or civil liability unless your situation matches the specific instances where you are legally allowed to use force or deadly force.
If the occupant firing the weapon at the fleeing criminal had negligently hit an innocent bystander, then he would also be subject to a personal injury lawsuit by that bystander. That would be a civil matter separate and distinct from the criminal matter for which he was tried and convicted.
Yes, we have a right to own firearms and, yes, we have a right to defend ourselves when we are within our lawful bubbles, but those rights are not unlimited and we are not allowed to play cop or vigilante.
I know a lot of people who own guns. Sometimes that ownership becomes incorporated in their ego. They imagine themselves to be bigger than they are, stronger, more in control, and powerful. God-like in their ability to take a life. And therein lies the problem, it’s not that they have more control over the circumstances surrounding them, they have a greater responsibility to control themselves.
Post Script: I will be writing a piece on the 2nd Amendment before too long. I had hoped to wait until the frenzy surrounding mass shootings and gun control had subsided, but it appears that, with the continual onslaught of gun violence, waiting for emotions to die down may not be possible.
Post Script # 2: After my post went up yesterday, a friend mentioned to be me she didn’t believe ego was always an issue with gun ownership. And I agree. Sometimes people find themselves in situations where they may be caught up in the moment or acting out of passion and not rationally thinking. Other times a person may be confronted with a would-be perpetrator and that person has to hope they are making the best judgment call in the way they defend themselves because, while they have no desire to hurt another, they do not wish to become a victim either. Who would? The possible scenarios are limitless. This all points to the need for good training and practice. And the need to learn and understand the lawful uses of such weapons.
Photo: This photo was found on the Internet in the public domain. A link to it traces back to the Virgin Island Free Press.
Note: All links are subject to link rot.