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Killing Over Property

Jeff Soyer responds to a statement by Peter Hamm of The Brady Campaign on the Castle Doctrine law in Mississippi: “Do we want to kill every 16-year-old kid we find stealing a car stereo?”  Jeff’s response:

Actually, yes we do. Here’s why: Because after a few of these teen thugs are removed from the scene, their peers will get the message that stealing is wrong. They’re not getting that instruction from their parents or prosecutors or judges so it’s left to us — the law abiding members of society and the victims of these criminals — to educate them ourselves.

Further, if they (the miscreants) don’t get that message, they continue to steal and emboldened by toothless laws tend to move-up to more serious crimes such as assault, muggings, and home invasions — often resulting in the death of their victims (us!).

This isn’t something I can get behind.  Even under castle doctrine laws, it’s illegal an immoral to execute someone (and that is what you are doing, make no bones about it) for stealing your property.  I am entirely in favor of people being able to use, and using deadly force to protect themselves and others.  If you confront a car stereo thief, and he threatens you with a weapon, you are within your rights to use deadly force on your attacker.  If he runs away with your car stereo, that’s a job for the police.

In order to enjoy the benefits of living under government in a peaceful society, we largely agree to surrender our right of retribution to the state, and to rely on it to punish people who take our property.  We retain the right and means of self-defense as a people.  Seeking retribution for petty crimes is the proper role of the police and the court system, not of individual citizens.  I admire Jeff’s clear thinking on a great many issues, but if we are to convince our fellow citizens that castle doctrine is not “vigilantism”, then we must not feed that fire by actually advocating that.

45 Responses to “Killing Over Property”

  1. Robb Allen says:

    I’m half and half on this one. Currently, nothing happens to these miscreants. It’s why you hear all the time in the news that “the suspect” had a rap sheet longer than an annotated copy of War & Peace.

    Yes, I will gladly give authority to those who can effectively punish those who steal from us, but is that honestly happening any more? Do the police really have the amount of time necessary to fingerprint your car and look for the guy who took your 9 year old Blaupunkt?

    I can see Jeff’s frustration with the system. Personally, I would draw on someone stealing my radio if I caught them. How else am I supposed to stop them? But if they ran, I would do nothing. If they continued, well why should I just stand there and let it happen, and short of force, how could I stop it?

    How about specifically aiming for legs? Would that be acceptable? How about punching the ever lovin’ shit out of them? Why would that be any different?

  2. Sebastian says:

    You can use physical force to recover property, you just can’t use deadly force. You can’t even legally threaten deadly force. I’m also frustrated that the police tend to ignore petty crime, especially in big cities, but the solution to that isn’t to start murdering people over petty crimes.

    It’s one thing to advocate being able to use deadly force against someone committing a forcible, violent felony. It’s another to suggest that petty crimes should have an instant penalty of death with no jury, and no trial. We’re walking away from the realm of self-defense here, and entering “taking the law into your own hands” vigilantism. I would have no problem with someone using physical force to recover his property that was stolen from him, which is allowed under the law. But not deadly force.

  3. Robb Allen says:

    Agreed to a point, but I would then say that what is deadly force? If I aim for the legs, yes there’s a chance of me missing and taking out his nasal cavity, but limited. Just like I could hit him with my fists right on the temple and him crumple like a wet paper bag. The difference is with option (a) is I have less of a chance of getting hurt.

    Let’s switch from a radio to your wallet. Deadly force OK then? If so, why? Because of the proximity to your person? If that’s the case, then how am I supposed to use less lethal force against a thief without getting closer to him. At that point, he is naturally right to fight back (naturally meaning he will defend himself regardless if he’s in the wrong morally or not).

    If I were to walk up to my car and see someone breaking into my vehicle, I think I have the right to draw my weapon. The burglar is going to freak out being caught, and I have to assume that someone who breaks the social contract about not stealing is going to do so by putting himself at an advantage against the owner (i.e. multiply his force) and is willing to break the social contract about not harming others.

    I wouldn’t shoot him if he ran, but in order to get to my vehicle and remove my belongings from him, I need to be able to overwhelm him in case his natural instincts kick in and he wishes to defend himself.

  4. kaveman says:

    Don’t know about your individual state laws, but in my home state a $500 dollar amount must be breached before the cops will even consider looking into the matter.

    If someone steals your $450 dollar stereo, the cops don’t give a damn.

  5. Sebastian says:

    Deadly force is defined under PA law as “Force which, under the circumstances in which it is used, is readily capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.” Firearms, by law, are always treated as deadly force. If you shoot someone in the leg, it’s aggravated assault at the least.

    Let’s switch from a radio to your wallet. Deadly force OK then? If so, why? Because of the proximity to your person? If that’s the case, then how am I supposed to use less lethal force against a thief without getting closer to him. At that point, he is naturally right to fight back (naturally meaning he will defend himself regardless if he’s in the wrong morally or not).

    Depends on the circumstances. It would not be in the case of a pickpocket. In the case of a mugger, presumably he has a weapon that he’s threatened you with in order to convince you to part with your wallet. At that point he’s threatening you with deadly force and your right of self-defense kicks in.

    I wouldn’t shoot him if he ran, but in order to get to my vehicle and remove my belongings from him, I need to be able to overwhelm him in case his natural instincts kick in and he wishes to defend himself.

    That’s the risk with using physical force to recover property, which is why I’d either call the police, and risk the loss of the property. But until he threatens you with grave bodily injury or harm, you’re not legally justified in using deadly force against him. I don’t think that it’s morally justified either, because someone’s life isn’t worth a car stereo.

    In order for civilization to function, you have to leave retribution to the state. Someone committing petty theft steals a little of your time for your labors. It’s not a moral response to in turn deprive that person of the rest of their life.

  6. Greg Morris says:

    Robb, you still need to read Jon Gutmachers book :)

    If your vehicle is parked in the street, and you draw on a thief who is stealing your radio, you have committed the crime of “assault with a deadly weapon” and are eligible for a 10 year taxpayer-paid visit to the state pen.

    I’m not saying it is right. I’m not saying that it happens very often. But if the only other witness is your hoplophobic neighbor, then you are pretty much screwed.

    Things to keep in mind: Threat of deadly force (i.e. pointing a gun at someone)is almost the same as using deadly force in many jurisdictions. Also, in the state of Florida at least (and I imagine elsewhere) shooting someone in the legs is still “using deadly force.” If you shoot at someone, even if you miss, or aim low, it is considered using deadly force. Florida law, including the limited case law available, is pretty clear that you can only shoot someone (or even threaten to shoot them) in order to stop a violent felony. The Castle Doctrine in Florida ONLY provides an assumption of a violent felony when you defend yourself inside your own house. Outside of your house, you have to be faced with the immediate prospect of death, or great bodily harm, in order to use justified deadly force.

    I’m going to have to agree with Sebastian here, at least in principle. Now if the perp stealing my radio makes a move that seems like he may be drawing a weapon, I will kill him where he stands. But if he jumps out of the parked car and screams like a little girl and starts running away, then your best best, legally speaking, is to let the police and your insurance company deal with it.

  7. kaveman says:

    I got 2 questions for Petey.

    1. What kind of stereo do you own?
    2. What’s your address?

  8. Greg Morris says:

    Note, all of the law I am referring to is Florida law… just FYI.

  9. kaveman says:

    Food for thought.

    I called my local PD(which is 12 miles away) and asked them if it would be legal for me to shoot out the tires of a vehicle fleeing my property after a theft of my stuff.

    They said no, but I could legally get into my car, chase them down, T-bone them, run them off the road and basically disable their car by ramming it until it stopped moving.

    So, rather than sending off a 25 cent 185 grain bullet, I can smash them to pieces with a $5000, 2 ton car.

    Neat!

  10. Robb Allen says:

    Well, I’m not terribly clear in my writing, which happens with a 4×2″ box of text. But honestly if someone was breaking into my car I’m not going to just sit by. However, what I do depends on the situation.

    I would think that yelling “Hey, get out of my car” should be enough to chase the turd off. But if he decides to fight me for my stuff, then it’s not my fault he ends up getting shot. I just don’t see much of a middle ground there. Either he runs in which case, even if he has my stereo in hand, too bad for me or he takes the natural position of defending himself (a position, mind you, he put himself in).

    Also, in my house, all bets are off. I don’t have the time to discern if you are truly a threat to my family.

    So, in essence I agree with you. If I can discern that it’s just going to be property, then I would never consider using deadly force. I also understand that shooting anyone is deadly force, even if you were aiming for their toes. That was just hypothetical. Personally, and I know my opinion doesn’t carry weight, that’s horseshit. Intent is what’s important, but I agree it can be difficult to ascertain.

  11. Boyd says:

    In Texas, the Castle Doctrine applies to property, too. Just sayin’.

    Yes, there are caveats, whys and wherefores, but basically, if you catch someone stealing from you in the middle of the night and they try to hightail it, you’re legally allowed to use deadly force to prevent their departure.

  12. GeorgeH says:

    “If you confront a car stereo thief, and he threatens you with a weapon, you are within your rights to use deadly force on your attacker. If he runs away with your car stereo, that’s a job for the police.”

    If you wait for him to threaten you with a weapon, it’s too late, you’re dead unless you’re Wyatt Earp. You had best fear for your life, if you want to keep it. If you see someone in your stuff, you know he’s a criminal and it’s perfectly legitimate to assume he will kill you to avoid identification.

  13. Robb Allen says:

    In which case George, you’re no longer killing over property.

  14. Greg Morris says:

    That’s the thing… even if there is a situation where you or your family are not immediately threatened, but it is still legal to use deadly force, _should_ you consider using it? My answer is “No” on moral grounds.

    Regardless of that, in the gray areas of the law, if you are charged and acquitted, you are still pretty much screwed by the system (legal fees, etc.) In Florida, the DA is not allowed to charge you if you shoot someone who has broken into your home and has no legal reason to be there. Hence, that is the only situation where I would say without qualification that deadly force is OK. In some of the less obvious situations, you are generally only required to act “reasonable”, but people still have been screwed by the law. All it takes is a bad jury.

    I agree with the concept of “better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6″… but its tough to bet on how those 12 might interpret (or even disregard) the actual law.

  15. Sebastian says:

    If you wait for him to threaten you with a weapon, it’s too late, you’re dead unless you’re Wyatt Earp

    Waiting for him to present a weapon is not a requirement. If you confront someone who’s broken into your property and is stealing from it, and he makes a move like he’s going for a weapon, draw and move to cover, and be ready for a fight. The standard is whether a reasonable person would believe that he was in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or harm.

  16. Sebastian says:

    I would not want to stand before a jury and have to explain how I ended up shooting someone in a scuffle over a car radio because I thought he was going for a weapon.

    I once had to confront someone rummaging through my friends car while we were eating at a place on Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia. This was during college, and before I had an LTC. The guy got out of the car, but wouldn’t leave when my friend demanded to know what the hell he was doing in his car, and whether he had stolen anything.

    Then we were lucky he eventually decided to take off, but to be honest, if it happened to me now, and he made any kind move toward his pockets or waist, he would be a dead man. Even so, I don’t think I’d start a physical altercation with him to see if he took anything. The property isn’t worth risking having to shoot someone if the altercation escalates.

  17. Greg Morris says:

    What I find to be interesting is that “stand your ground” laws (not castle doctrine) often refer to the term “violent felony” as a legitimate reason for lethal force.

    Murder, Kidnapping, Rape, Armed robbery, Aggravated Assault… Those are all ones we know about and probably would consider reasonable.

    But there are others, at least by Florida Law, that qualify as “violent felonies”.
    -Arson… ok, I can see that.
    -Treason… I’d like to see case law on that one. “Officer, he uh, was trying to sell secrets to the Russians.”
    -Attempted burglary… hmmm, there might be a legal defense for using lethal force to defend property… this was a recent FL supreme court case
    -Violently resisting arrest… another “hmmmm”.

    Of course, attorneys in FL who have written about this basically say that you still shouldn’t use lethal force unless, as Sebastian says, a reasonable person would believe himself in immediate danger of serious bodily harm.

  18. straightarrow says:

    Sebastian, you are quite clearly and simply wrong on this. Before I explain why, let me say that I would not personally shoot someone stealing my car or my stereo out of my car. My house, different story entirely.

    Here is why you are morally wrong, though as the law stands today, legally correct. The law is also morally wrong.

    Theft is murder. YES! It is. It is simply murder writ small. Murder is the unjustifiable taking of a human life. All homicides are not murder, some are justified homicides and hence, are not murder.

    If you agree that murder is the unsjust taking of human life, then you must agree that using deadly force against a thief of that life is justified.

    For theft is the unjust taking of a human life. That’s right. It really is. Theft negates the part of human life the possessor of the stolen articles expended in acquiring his possessions. Thus, murder writ small.

    Under your pretext, partially taking someone’s life is not worth resisting. If your investment in one of your possessions or more were to total to 60 months of your hard work and sacrifice to avail yourself of them, when they are stolen so has five years of your life been stolen. Yet you think retribution or revenge is the proper term for not allowing such, when in reality it is defense of your life we are talking about. Five years of it.

    If you think because it is a small investment of your life, say one day, would it then be acceptable to allow the theft? No! It would not. Unless you can tell me which day you would allow someone to kill you dead. Just that one day. Even the last one of your life is precious and no one has the right to take it away from you. Not from the front, the middle or the tag end.

    Would you shoot a man who determined to burn down your home? Would you still do it if you and your family were not in it? If you would do such to protect your family’s home, then we are not talking about the sanctity of life or the rule of law, or the needs of civilized society. We are now just haggling over price, if you really hold with your statement that it is wrong to kill over the theft of property.

    Would you allow such a theft of such a significant portion of your life? Is not every day of your life too precious to allow its theft?

    I would not shoot someone driving my new car out of my driveway and the law has not a damn thing to do with it. I have placed my life at the disposal of others before and though this would be an involuntary placing I would endure it for my peace of mind. It is my decision. Not the state’s, not anybody else’s, mine, because it is a portion of my life being stolen. While I would not do it, neither could I ever hold at fault a man who did.

    No civilized society decrees that its members must allow themselves to be victimized thusly. Ergo, as you hold the popular view, I submit we are a long way from a civilized society. We are almost back to the days when we hid in our caves hoping the marauders would not find us. How does that equate to civilization?.

  19. straightarrow says:

    Deadly force judiciously applied stopped the marauding, not courts, not cops (there were none). Justice can only survive if people defend it. Courts and law are there to legitimize that defense not provide it, simply because they cannot.

    When enough force was applied we came out of the caves. We then set about codifying the rules we expected to be observed. They were set as a primer for those not peaceably or honesty inclined. They were put down so as to remove excuses of the criminal and marauding classes. None of that would have been possible without the ever present ability and will to apply deadly force when those rules were transgressed.

    The weight of all civilized society rests on the backs of those who know this and have the will to employ it. Everybody else is just along for the free ride.

  20. straightarrow says:

    The first part of my comment disappeared. I will try to rewrite it.

  21. straightarrow says:

    Sebastian, you are quite clearly and simply morally wrong on this, though, with how the law now stands you are legally correct. Before I go further, let me say, I would not personally kill someone driving my new car out of my driveway, nor taking my stereo out of my car. But, that is my decision, not the state’s, not the cops’, and not the courts. It is what I would do for me. For my own peace of mind. With no thought at all for the thief’s well-being.

    Theft is murder. YES! It is. Murder is the unjust taking of a human life. Not all homicides are murder, some are justified and hence are not murder. Theft is murder writ small.

    If you agree that the unjust taking of human life is murder, then you must agree that theft is murder. For what is theft but the taking of that portion of your life invested in your possessions. thus murder writ small.

    If you have possessions in which you have invested a significant or insignificant portion of your life and someone takes them, they have taken that part of your life that you worked and sacrificed for to avail yourself of those possessions. If you cannot name the day you would allow someone to take your life, just for one day, how can you countenance not resisting theft?

    Would you use deadly force against someone who had determined to burn down your home? Would you still use it even if you and your family were not in it, knowing that all you would lose would be possessions?

    If you would, then we are not talking about sanctity of human life, or law, or civilized society. We are simply haggling over price.

    Every day of your life is precious, whether in the beginning or the middle or at the tag end. Resisting theft of that with deadly force is wholly justified.

    No civilized society would demand its citizens be unresisting victims of theft. Since you hold the popular view, I submit we are not civilized but have retreated back into our caves. Hoping the marauders would not find us or that they would find others to plunder first. What is civilized about that?

  22. straightarrow says:

    I apologize for so many consecutive posts, I lost most of this the first time around and am trying to rebuild it. Something left out is this;

    While I wouldn’t kill a thief over some possessions, (yes, there are some, I would) I would never fault a man who did. He has a right to defend ALL his life, every minute of it, including those he expended in attaining his possessions.

  23. Sebastian says:

    Theft is murder. YES! It is. Murder is the unjust taking of a human life. Not all homicides are murder, some are justified and hence are not murder. Theft is murder writ small.

    Theft is stealing the product of my labor. It is morally wrong for someone to do that, but society institutes retribution against someone convicted of this type of crime by fining them, this taking the product of their labor, or throwing them in prison, and depriving them of their liberty for a short period of time in order to do justice to the person who was harmed. Theft is not a capital offense.

    It is morally wrong to end someone’s life because they stole something from you.

  24. Kevin Baker says:

    In order to enjoy the benefits of living under government in a peaceful society, we largely agree to surrender our right of retribution to the state, and to rely on it to punish people who take our property.

    I believe Jeff’s point is that when the state refuses to punish the people who take our property – “They’re not getting that instruction from their parents or prosecutors or judges so it’s left to us” – then shooting them seems to be about the only option left other than surrender.

    Remember the joke/story about the guy who calls the cops when he sees people stealing stuff out of his shed? The cops tell him that there’s no one available to respond, but they’ll send out an officer as soon as they can to take a report. He calls back a few minutes later and tells them not to bother. He’s shot all the burglars. Six patrol cars show up in less than five minutes, and capture the burglars in the act. “I thought you said you’d shot them!” say the cops. “I thought you said no one was available!” said the homeowner.

    What Jeff is advocating against, I think, is what has happened in England. Murder may still be astonishingly low, but other violent or property crimes are higher (in some cases much higher) than here – because the State has failed to do its job, and essentially prohibited the public from doing it either.

    The result: a not-so-peaceful society.

  25. Alcibiades McZombie says:

    I think it depends on where the car is. If the car is in a locked garage, there would be more leeway in dealing with the criminal.

    If the car is on the street, it would probably be best to deal with it like dealing with trespassers. Give a verbal warning first, wait for a response, and then react accordingly.

    I would want to avoid the phrase that “no property is worth killing over” because it cannot see all possibilities. It should be much more complicated than that.

  26. Alcibiades McZombie says:

    I thought grand theft was a felony that could be punished with death or forfeiture in the “old days”.

  27. GeorgeH says:

    “In which case George, you’re no longer killing over property.”
    –Robb Allen

    That is my point.
    Any time you confront a criminal, you are at serious risk of your life and must act accordingly.

  28. Jym says:

    Life is not sacred. All it takes to make life is a dick and a pussy. In this case, I think you’re being a pussy, so now I’m adding in being the dick, and we’ve already made up for the death of one burglar!

    (Note to third parties: Sebastian and I have been friends for a decade now, I’m not being a troll, just teasing)

    I think the main problem with your position is that as a state, we’ve become weak at actually punishing criminals. Because of stupidity like the War on Drugs, people who commit acts that are truly criminal are not able to be punished to the degree they should be, whether due to police being overworked to the point of just not being able to look into every theft, or whether due to early releases and generally more lax sentencing because of prison crowding, or just because as a society we’re obsessed with giving everyone a tenth chance to prove themselves rehabilitated.

    Most people cannot be rehabilitated. They are, in the words of Scott Adams, simply moist robots, who in this particular case have programming that leads them to ignore basic societal directives. It is extremely unlikely the will be successfully reprogrammed, and indeed it is more likely they will actually continue to ignore societal directives to a possibly more violent degree.

    You arbitrarily declare it immoral to punish theft with death, but I would argue that seeing as morality is fabricated by man, it is more intelligent to rely on logic, and it is illogical to not punish them so. Indeed, for a portion of American history, the life of a horse was worth more than the life of a horse thief, so your morality is obviously not even based in historical values.

    The average career criminal (and most people starting at the age of 16 are likely in for a long life of crime) contributes relatively little to society, and at the same time is an above average drain on the resources of others, including good contributing members of society. It would seem only logical to eliminate them from the society, as they are unlikely to ever change under the current system. Imprisonment is simply expensive, so they are still a drain on resources, and does not have the added benefit of doing as impressive a job at deterring other potentially criminal moist robots.

  29. straightarrow says:

    “It is morally wrong to end someone’s life because they stole something from you.”-Sebastian.

    Again wrong unless you really meant it in the past tense you posted. In that case, I would agree. That is simply revenge and is morally wrong.

    It would be morally wrong to hunt down and kill someone who “stole” from you. If you could hunt him down, calling the police is the proper response. However it is not morally wrong to end the life of someone who is “stealing” from you. See the difference. Of course, if he surrenders and waits while you call the police, good. If he leaves the swag and runs, then again it is morally wrong. But if he goes with your property, if ending his life to stop him is the only way, it is not morally wrong, though it may be illegal.

    Please answer my question about what would you do if someone had determined to burn your home, but you weren’t in it, so your only risk was loss of property.

  30. Sebastian says:

    Please answer my question about what would you do if someone had determined to burn your home, but you weren’t in it, so your only risk was loss of property.

    Actually, considering my home, the man would be doing me a favor. I could rebuild on the insurance company the house I’d really like to have :)

    But seriously, I would use physical force to stop him. If I had to beat the hell out of him, then fine. If he started winning, well, fists can be deadly weapons. I’ll leave it at that.

  31. Joe Huffman says:

    Sebastian I understand and agree with the legal and moral arguments you make. But there are difficult questions to answer in some edge cases which I don’t have good answers to. Maybe you do.

    Ten years ago I would have dismissed the edge cases saying they never happen so we don’t need to worry about it. But the data exists that some of those edge cases actually exist and perhaps we need to address them.

    As kaveman pointed out some legal jurisdictions have minimum dollar amounts before the cops will take action. A relative had their garage broken into and numerous things taken. They called the police and they were told that burglary was an issue to be settled between them and there insurance company. If the insurance company wanted a case number they would give them one over the phone but they weren’t going to actually come out and look at anything.

    You don’t have to have much more than a room temperature I.Q. to predict what happens under those type of conditions. Burglary, insurance fraud, and insurance rates will skyrocket.

    If there is a dollar limit of $500 per theft before the cops will do anything what are the constraints that prevent people from routinely doing their grocery shopping in that manner? I never spend that much on a single trip to the grocery store. And the more people that do that and get away with it the more the normally law abiding feel like chumps for paying. And of course for the shop-owner/insurance-company to remain in business the prices have to go up. The normally lawful person is paying the price for the people that get their merchandise for free.

    Taken to the limit, at some point, the shop-owner and the lawful person are having their lives threatened. They simply cannot afford to bear the burden of all the people living off of their works.

    As a side note, a similar case exists with copyright law. The FBI won’t treat copyright infringement as a crime if the theft is for less than $100K. $100K of copyright infringement for Microsoft is in the noise. For a two person company probably means the death of the company. And for a $100K infringement you probably can’t afford to take it through the civil courts unless you are assured of having your legal fees recovered if you win.

    The question becomes, “What do you do in these situations?” My recommendation is to pack up and move to Idaho instead of staying in a legal jurisdiction where that sort of crap is tolerated. But that is really avoiding the question rather than directly confronting it. There are three options as I see it:

    1) Use the political process to fix the problem of the cops not responding to crime.
    2) Openly use vigilante justice. Perhaps without using deadly force. Pepper spraying the SOB each time they try to walk off with your goods for example. When confronted with the assault charges and/or civil suits you plead your case to a “jury of your peers” and hope they will acknowledge the system is broken and that you didn’t really have viable options.
    3) Secretly use vigilante justice and do your best to not get caught.

    I don’t know much about the history of vigilante’s in places other than Idaho. But those cases in Idaho from 100 years ago or more occurred because law enforcement deficiency or corruption and stopped as soon as law enforcement began doing it’s job again.

    Assuming my analysis above is correct then the question becomes, “Where do you draw the line and become a vigilante when the threshold is crossed?” Unless the answer is “never”, in which case you are willing to die and let your dependents die for your principles, then we are just haggling over your price.

  32. C. Bruce Richardson Jr. says:

    Sebastian, there was a case in Texas right after the concealed carry law went into effect involving a fellow who shot and killed another fellow who was beating him on the head with his fists. If memory serves (if often doesn’t), the fellow being beaten through his car window suffered some serious trauma to the head before his stopped his attacker.

    The court held that his attacker was using deadly force even though he was only using his fists. The victim (and I don’t mean the guy who was killed) had reason to fear for his life and his use of deadly force was justified. The anti-gun folks in Texas were outraged of course. I guess they thought that he should have called the police after the guy finished beating him to death. I can think of many objects that could be used to kill–deadly weapons. If someone is trying to kill you with a rock, you can respond with deadly force that isn’t limited to another rock.

    I think that you were joking but in case you were not, it would be foolish to get close enough to a criminal to use your fists. You have no way to know whether he has a weapon. Or he may be more proficient with his fists than you are, in which case he could beat you to death.

    If he is face down on the ground with his arms spread, he is still a threat but not an immediate threat. You would turn him over to the police. If he is on his feet and within 20 feet of you, you could be in great danger. He might be able to cover those 20 feet before you could draw your weapon and fire. Even if you hit him (don’t be assume that you will) and mortally wound him, he could still kill you. Any time you confront a criminal doing what criminals do best, you have reason to fear for your life.

    I wouldn’t use deadly force in retaliation for theft of course. I would use it only to defend myself while I am attempting to defend my property. It would be safer to just let them steal your property of course. But do we really want to live in a society where criminals feel that they can just take what they want when they want?

    Bruce Richardson
    Houston, Texas

  33. Sebastian says:

    I think this is probably a subject worthy of another post. Note that it’s not my view that people should bend over and just keep taking it. The law does allow for the use of force to recover property, just not deadly force.

  34. R.J. says:

    The Bible says, “If a thief breaks in at night, and is struck so he dies, there shall be no guilt for his blood. But if the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his blood.” (Ex 22:2)

    Notice that the Bible says “thief”. That means he is at risk of dying for his crime if he is caught in the act, and just ly so, as you are trying to stop him. The sun rising on him indicates to me that he has done his nefarious deed, and now, killing him wouldbe revenge.

    However, by letting him go with your stereo, you are showing mercy. Not a bad thing to do at all.

  35. straightarrow says:

    Actually, considering my home, the man would be doing me a favor. I could rebuild on the insurance company the house I’d really like to have :)

    Well then you woudln’t mind paying higher prohibitive premiums to provide me a house if someone burns mine down because I didn’t stop him. :)

    Again, you avoided a direct answer. It is a yes or no question, not a my house needs work question.

  36. Sebastian says:

    Would you use deadly force against someone who had determined to burn down your home? Would you still use it even if you and your family were not in it, knowing that all you would lose would be possessions?

    Family in it, yes, I would use deadly force if that’s what it took. No one occupying the dwelling, I’ll stop him with physical force. Nonetheless, that type of arson amounts to a lot more than a petty crime of stealing a radio. I can’t say for sure that killing him would be exactly right, but if I were on a jury in a trial of someone who used deadly force under those circumstances, I don’t think I’d vote to convict.

  37. Boyd says:

    I posted somewhat playfully before, but I’ll make my point more seriously now, because I keep seeing the same error repeated.

    When you say, “the law doesn’t allow the use of deadly force,” you’re wrong, Sebastian. Maybe “the law of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania doesn’t allow the use of deadly force,” but it’s not universally true. In some locations, Texas being the one I’m most familiar with, the law does allow the use of deadly force to prevent theft.

    So your moral stance is not encased in law throughout the US.

  38. straightarrow says:

    “Nonetheless, that type of arson amounts to a lot more than a petty crime of stealing a radio.”-Sebastian.

    See my earlier comment about haggling over price.

  39. ParatrooperJJ says:

    In my case, I would not be shooting him for stealing a stereo, I would be shooting him for resisting arrest for the theft. Perfectly legal.

  40. Sebastian says:

    Citizens don’t have any arrest powers. If you shoot someone for resisting arrest in most states, you’re going to jail. From Pennsylvania:

    A person commits a misdemeanor of the second degree if, with the intent of preventing a public servant from effecting a lawful arrest or discharging any other duty, the person creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to the public servant or anyone else, or employs means justifying or requiring substantial force to overcome the resistance.

    It requires intent to prevent a police officer from arresting you, and even for a police officer, it would be unlawful to use deadly force on someone resisting arrest.

  41. straightarrow says:

    Citizens do have the power of arrest. However, it is a mine field and carries a great deal of legal risk, due in the main to attitudes and philosophies such as yours.

    That is not a slam, merely a note that your erroneous opinion on this is also by far the most popular. That popularity of the opinion allows and even encourages persecution of a citizen who attempts his duty.

    That we have instituted paramilitary organizations (police) to work full time in the apprehension of criminals and enforcement of law does nothing to relieve each citizen of his responsibility should he happen upon a crime in progress. As we have abdicated our duty to “professionals” so have we approved of allowing crime right before our eyes.

    Ask Kitty Genovese.

  42. Sebastian says:

    You’re correct. When I mention lack of arrest powers I don’t mean that people can’t hold someone until police arrive; you can do that legally. But you get no protections afforded to police officers. Whether that’s right or not (I don’t think it is, personally) is another matter, but citizens don’t get the benefit of legal protections when making an arrest.

  43. David says:

    This is all getting perilously close to Benjamin/reasonablenut’s infamous question asking gunbloggers in essence what it would take for them to murder someone.

    I will simply point out two things: the majority of people in my experience (and I’m a Californian!) who have had property stolen were sufficiently outraged that they openly and sincerely expressed a desire that the thief be killed. I have no reason to believe this is not a widespread sentiment. It is, however unlawful to act on it in most places.

    Secondly, in the event one ends up shooting a criminal in justified self-defense, your discussion on the Internet of whether or not you would be willing to employ lethal force against a property thief may be dredged up by either the prosecution trying to put you away or by the thief’s family’s attorney trying to extort money from you in a wrongful death suit. Be very careful what you say, and don’t think that commenting under a pseudonym or anonymously on a blog means you can’t be found.

  44. ParatrooperJJ says:

    In Ohio citizens have the same felony arrest authority as police officers.

  45. Sebastian says:

    The big thing for civilians is that we don’t have qualified immunity. In most states, you can use force to constrain a lawbreaker for authorities. But you don’t get qualified immunity, which makes it hazardous. I think Pennsylvania allows for some immunity if you’ve been ordered into the service of a police officer, but if you’re acting without an official directive you don’t get it.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Call me Ahab » Blog Archive » Reading my mind - [...] seems that Sebastian has been practicing reading my mind again, with this current piece on the Castle Doctrine. This…
  2. Snowflakes in Hell » Blog Archive » Defense of Property, Round 2 - [...] had a very good discussion in the last thread, where I responded to Jeff Soyer’s piece on castle doctrine.…
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