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I just watched some video footage from a smoke-shop in Nevada. The store clerk was behind a counter at the rear of the store. Two middle-school aged boys rushed in the front door and began grabbing items off the shelves. The clerk instantly drew a semi-automatic pistol and shot one of the boys seven times from a distance that appears to be 25-30 feet away.  The other fled suspect fled.  He then called the police, reported that he had been robbed and, in fear for his life, had shot one of the robbers.  He is now up on charges for murder, and on the strength of the store’s video footage he is likely to be convicted of homicide, if not 2nd Degree Murder.

Damn right I am going to ‘Monday-Morning Quarterback’ this one.

‘But Tinker,’ I hear you cry, ‘The man feared for his life!’ I seriously question this; events moved so quickly I don’t think there was time for fear; he drew and fired immediately. No challenge, no demands for surrender. The gun came out and he opened fire. It’s irrelevant anyway; the standard for the use of lethal force in Nevada (and most places) is that you must have a reasonable fear of imminent death or grave bodily injury to yourself or another innocent. Even if the clerk did fear for his life his fear was not reasonable. Why?

First and foremost neither suspect was displaying a weapon.

The suspects moved straight to the shelves and began grabbing merchandise , offering no direct threat. Were they, perhaps, going to assault him with their armloads of loot? Or were they going to bolt right back out the door, as is usual in snatch-and-grab theft?

The shooter had time to assess the situation. He was behind a counter 25-30 feet away, and could move freely to his left or through the open door to his immediate right, giving himself more time to make an accurate assessment of the situation. He did not take that time, but instead opened fire as soon as he had a shot. He did not issue a challenge.

Now a child is dead and a citizen, whom for all I know is a decent person, will spend several years in prison. Not only will he lose his right to bear arms and bear the stigma of a convicted murderer, he will have to live with the knowledge that he killed a kid when he didn’t need to.

Now the clerk might have been justified in drawing a weapon while he evaluated the situation; startled by the abrupt and fast entry of the thieves it would arguably not be out of line.  But he did not evaluate the situation. He opened fire and now life as he knew it is over.

I cannot say what he felt in the moment. Maybe he was terrified of being pelted with random merchandise. But whatever he felt in that moment it was inarguably not a ‘reasonable fear.’ Perhaps he panicked. Perhaps he had enough and resolved to make the next thief pay. Most of us are not aching to shoot someone, but we cannot know.

I suppose I’m being rather hard on this fellow. After all it’s not as if he shot an unarmed child with his arms full from twenty-five feet away. Seven times. Oh wait, yes he did.

I am a strong proponent of self-defense. I generally have no sympathy for criminals. I generally feel that they get what they deserve. If that child had a knife in his hand and blood in his eye I’d be saying, ‘Yay team!’ But he did not. He had an armful of things that weren’t his that he barely had time to grab before he came under fire. He deserved to be apprehended and prosecuted and to pay for his crime. Instead he was killed.

Reasonable fear of imminent death or grave bodily harm to ourselves or another innocent. That is the nearly universal standard in this country, and it is a moral and ethical rule. But it’s a line in the sand- the line between justifiable self-defense and prison. Between a life ruined and another ended. Over maybe as much as $100 worth of merchandise.

If you are going to carry a weapon you need to educate yourself as to what constitutes a reasonable threat. Research this, take classes, read books, watch videos- think about it. Be mentally prepared not just to shoot- but to not shoot. This is- literally- life and death. There is no margin for error.

You have a right to defend yourself- but there is no right that does not carry responsibility with it.

 


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