Good article on the armed citizen ... some comments by Clayton Cramer.
Safe at home? Experts weigh in on validity of self-defense shootings
By STEPHEN GURR
Scott Rogers The Times
When a South Hall homeowner shot and killed an armed intruder last week, it was a fairly easy call by officials not to bring criminal charges.
District Attorney Lee Darragh quickly determined that the fatal shooting of 37-year-old Robby Bailey by Conditioned Air Systems president Doug Magnus was justified. Bailey, who had a lengthy criminal history and spent more than 10 years in and out of state prisons, fired several shots at Magnus while lurking outside his home wearing a ski mask, according to authorities.
But self-defense shootings such as the one that ended Bailey's life are not commonplace. Prosecutors and police often must wrestle with the facts of each case, and, in recent years, legislators have passed new laws they say strengthen a citizen's rights to use deadly force in self-defense.
According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Supplementary Homicide Reports, of 14,283 homicides in the United States in 2004, the most recent year in which data was available, only 218 involved a "felon killed by a private citizen." That category, considered a "justifiable homicide" by the FBI, represented just 1.5 percent of all homicides.
Incidents like last week's shooting are often cited by gun ownership advocates as examples of the importance of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
"I think it's a good argument in favor of sensible gun control," said Clayton Cramer, the author of "Armed America: How and Why GunsBecame As American As Apple Pie." Cramer, of Horseshoe Bend, Idaho, runs a Internet Web log that chronicles news reports of self-defense shootings, including the Hall County incident.
Cramer said he started the log after debating gun control advocates who claimed there "really aren't that many defensive uses of guns in the U.S."
"I started reporting every incident I could find any reference to," Cramer said. "We've been able to find thousands over the last several years."
Cramer said the FBI's statistics are misleading, because they do not count cases which first resulted in criminal charges but eventually ended in either dismissals or acquittals. The FBI data also does not take into account defensive uses of guns that did not result in death or injury, he said.
"The vast majority of times, when someone uses a gun in self-defense, no one ends up dead," Cramer said.
National Rifle Association spokeswoman Ashley Varner says that while self-defense shootings may not be commonplace, the use of guns to defend life and property is.
"People every day defend themselves with firearms without having to fire a shot," Varner said. "More often than not, when someone is trying to burglarize a home, homeowners merely need to show that they have a gun."
The NRA has been a major lobbying force in the passage of numerous state laws in the past two years that seek to strengthen existing self-defense laws. Called "stand your ground" laws by their advocates and "shoot first" laws by their critics, the bills have removed language concerning a person's "duty to retreat" before using deadly force.
In Georgia, the so-called "Castle Doctrine" passed in last year's legislative session removed the duty to retreat if an individual is attacked in any place he or she has a legal right to be, whether a home, car or place of business, according to the NRA.
Gun control advocates say the legislation is at best, unnecessary, and at worst, irresponsible.
Incidents like last week's shooting "are definitely being played up to justify this slew of fake self-defense laws," said Zach Ragbourn, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "I know if this (incident) happened two years ago, the result would have been the same. Police and prosecutors are not evil people bent on trying to put citizens away. A righteous shooting is a righteous shooting."
Ragbourn believes the new laws could serve to provide a defense for a criminal who kills someone in a shootout by claiming he feared for his safety. He said the Brady Campaign has never been opposed to the use of firearms for legitimate self-defense purposes.
"There are absolutely times when you have to defend yourself," Ragbourn said. "We do say that while there is legitimate value to gun ownership, the value doesn't always outweigh the risks."
Guns in homes are 22 times more likely to cause harm to the residents than to be used in defense of those homes, Ragbourn said.
"We remind people that the risk of an accidental shooting or mistaken identity shooting goes up when you own a firearm," Ragbourn said. "It really is a question of deciding what's best for your family."
Varner, of the NRA, says criticism of new "stand your ground" laws, and the suggestion they might promote criminal acts, amounts to "ridiculous ... fear-mongering."
"They're trying to scare people, but clearly it's not working, because we have had so many states pass these laws in the past two years with overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle," Varner said.
In every self-defense shooting, "the police and prosecutors are still going to investigate," Varner said.
Ken Hodges, district attorney for Dougherty County and chairman of the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia, said decisions on when to file charges in shootings are "subjective and fact-driven."
"If someone's breaking into a home, that's a pretty large step toward showing what you need in order to justify not prosecuting someone," Hodges said.
Hodges said he has handled "a number of deaths where I have deemed them justified and not taken them to a grand jury. There are some I have deemed a close call, and I've decided to take them to a grand jury and let them make the decision. I will tell them what my reservations are and ultimately they'll make the call."
Hodges dismisses Georgia's "Castle Doctrine" bill as unnecessary and essentially irrelevant.
"It didn't change a single thing," Hodges said. "They just codified well-established common law. It's just something for the legislature to make them look good and look tough on crime. You never had a duty to retreat from your own home."
Cramer, a Second Amendment rights advocate, says in the end, gun ownership and the right to use guns in self-defense should never be impeded by restrictive gun control laws.
"There are definitely significant misuses of guns in the United States, but there are also significant proper uses of guns in the United States," Cramer said. "There are an awful lot of decent people who are defending themselves using guns."
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, (770) 718-3428
Originally published Sunday, January 28, 2007
Clayton Cramer will soon be starting a book tour in support of his new book, Armed America: The
Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie. I'm sure that Michael
Bellesiles won't like it.