Understanding the difference between self-defense and reckless homicide



Read the news on any given day and it’s evident that violent acts are becoming ever more commonplace in American society in recent years.

The news of a mass shooting at the Columbine High School that left 12 students, a teacher and the two teenage shooters dead just days before I started at the Examiner in 1999 once shocked the nation. School shootings now seem to happen a couple times a year somewhere in the United States.

It seems as if people are becoming numb to the idea of death by shooting — especially the notion of teenagers using weapons to kill one another.

It’s unfortunate to say, but we, as the residents of Logan County, are now facing one such case that raises interesting questions and has the ability to set a precedent about our treatment and attitudes toward acts of violence in this community.

Do not get me wrong, this column is not about advocating for gun control and it is not about the Second Amendment.

It is about the God-given, constitutionally-protected and inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that underpin the entire Bill of Rights. It is about holding irresponsible individuals accountable for death they cause by reckless use of weapons.

To be succinct, a 20-year-old man recently shot and killed a 16-year-old boy. The shooter is currently in jail for allowing an underage drinking party.

What troubles my sensibilities is that some members of our community have been very quick to buy into the admitted shooter’s claims of “self-defense” and invoking of the “castle doctrine.”

While these are handy catch phrases that tend to incite the passions of individuals who support the ownership of firearms and the rights to defend oneself, one’s family and one’s home from intruders, they are also claims that must be carefully weighed and not simply taken at face value when used to justify a homicide.

The right to take a life when one’s own life is threatened is by no means a right that should be taken lightly and it is our job as responsible citizens of a free country to understand this first and foremost.

In the case at hand, the young man who has admitted to firing the shot that killed the teen has also admitted that he was running an illegal bar for underage drinkers.

And it was out of that blurry relationship between the shooter’s role as the resident of a family-owned home, his role as the bootlegger who was also admittedly drinking with his patrons and his role as the “bouncer” (as he described his occupation on his Facebook page) that this shooting death occurred.

A young man provided alcohol to a teenage boy with no regard to the irrational behaviors that consuming alcohol in quantity can cause. The same young man in his own admissions to dispatchers on the night of the crime and on the record in Bellefontaine Municipal Court said he consumed probably too much alcohol to safely drive on the night in question.

When the chaotic situation the young man had set into motion with his own reckless and irresponsible actions became too much to handle, he found his shotgun and loaded it.

If this young man had truly feared for his life, he had ample time to place a call to the Logan County Sheriff’s Office. But with a house full of underage drinkers, a young man who was admittedly intoxicated himself did not call the authorities and risk the possibility that they would hold him responsible for his illegal actions.

Instead he waited until trouble returned and escalated once again and he fired his weapon into the abdomen of an unarmed teenage boy — a boy he calmly called his friend in the ensuing 911 call. But in that same call, the young man had already begun presenting his case for “self-defense.”

This case is no more a case of self-defense than the owner of a drug house killing an addict after inviting him inside and getting him so jacked up on illegal product that the addict is no longer acting as a sane and rational human being would. The only difference is the drug in question is alcohol — a drug that is legal to be sold and consumed in licensed bars and restaurants, but not at all in the manner it was the night of the party in question.

More significantly, however, what the young man does not seem to understand about the “castle doctrine” is that the defense of one’s home begins long before a shot is fired.

Protecting a castle begins by not allowing criminal activity in it to begin with. A responsible defender of a home also affords society and its authorities an opportunity to come to his or her assistance before the situation escalates to the point of deadly force.

A person in possession of a deadly weapon should also understand how to use it appropriately to instill the fear of death or severe bodily injury in the individual who it is pointed at. If a situation permits it, a responsible person defending a home might allow fear to settle over a human target before he or she decides whether taking a life is truly necessary.

Then and only then is a person ever justified in stripping another human being of the God-given right to live.

From what I have heard of the evidence in this homicide, it is hard to justify self-defense in any fashion. And the castle doctrine, really? We have a young man clearly treating his property more like a speakeasy than a castle.

I have no teenage children of my own, but if I did, I would want to be able to sleep soundly at night knowing that despite any bad choices they could make regarding drinking or drug use that their lives should not be cut short by an irresponsible individual in possession of a deadly weapon.

I would, moreover, hope that the authorities we have elected or otherwise installed would not allow such deaths to be minimized by the political pressure of appeasing gun owners.

It is time the people of Logan County who will consider this case take a serious stand on senseless violence in our community.

There are things far more sacred than the right to keep and bear arms.

The right to live is the big one.

Reuben Mees is an Examiner Staff Writer and proponent of the right to keep and bear arms if one so chooses. He can be reached at rjmees@examiner.org.