Criminals beware: South Dakota hasn't lost its spirit of the Wild West, so you might want to think twice before trying to victimize a stranger who just might be packing heat.
Criminals were thwarted twice this week by targeted victims who turned the tables on the bad guys. In the first incident, a Box Elder man scared off a would-be burglar by firing two shots at him during an attempt to break into the man's home. The second incident involved a pizza delivery man who was assaulted and robbed while delivering a pizza. He managed to fire a pistol at his two attackers as they fled the scene. One of them later showed up at the hospital, where he was arrested.
We wouldn't want to encourage such bold behavior, since pulling a gun on a criminal often triggers more violence. A victim could wind up dead that way. Nevertheless, it's poetic justice when a victim fights back and wins. The pizza delivery man is a living reminder to would-be criminals: You never know who's out there carrying a gun and knows how to use it.
State law allows all South Dakotans to defend themselves against criminal behavior. In 2006, the state legislature revised the law regarding justifiable use of force as follows: "Any person is justified in the use of force or violence against another person when the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate the other person's trespass on or other criminal interference with real property or personal property lawfully in his or her possession..." The legislation notes that stricter laws govern the use of deadly force.
In simpler words: It's OK to fight back when a criminal attacks, enters your home, or tries to steal your property. Just do your best not to kill the guy, and don't forget your actions could land you in court, which has the final say on what's "justified."
Fortunately, most of us will never be in a position to apply that law. Pulling a gun on a criminal generally is not a good idea. Law enforcement officials would never condone it, since it's their job to protect society and they're trained to do the job the right way. Furthermore, we would never condone a vigilante justice that, if practiced too freely, could be abused by overzealous, trigger-happy folks. But we can't help but feel a bit glad that at least a few aggressive victims are out there making Western South Dakota a scarier place for criminals to do business.