Last week, I touched on some of the responsibilities of gun ownership when I discussed the case of Daniel Perry, a Texas man convicted of murder for shooting a man legally carrying a gun at a BLM protest (not a riot) in 2020. At the time, I stressed that, if you’re going to carry a gun, you have an obligation to be proficient with your weapon and knowledgeable about the relevant laws. Now, another tragic case underscores the need for such training and education.
On Thursday of last week, a white homeowner shot a black teen in Kansas City. There is no video of the encounter, but what apparently happened is that 16-year-old Ralph Yarl went to the wrong address when he tried to pick up his siblings. Andrew Lester, the owner of the home where Yarl rang the doorbell, allegedly opened fire through the glass window of the door before the two had even exchanged words reports CNN based on police documents and statements from the family.
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Yarl was struck by bullets in the head and the arm. Neighbors heard the shooting and called police and an ambulance. Thankfully, Yarl was not killed, but his attorney reports that he has been released from the hospital, but is “not out of the woods yet.” Yarl is said to have been academically and musically gifted. Hopefully, his head injury will not affect these abilities.
The shooter, 84-year-old Andrew Lester, was originally released after the shooting but yesterday police charged him with two felonies for first-degree assault and armed criminal action. The assault charge is Missouri’s equivalent of an attempted murder charge. A separate CNN report said that Lester was released because police needed time to do more investigative work.
Charging documents say that Lester saw Yarl pulling on an exterior door handle. Lester reported that he was “scared to death” of Yarl because of his size.
Let’s stop right there. You cannot legally open fire through your front door because the person ringing your doorbell is a large, black man.
And Yarl’s race is relevant here. The county prosecutor said at a press conference, “I can tell you there was a racial component to this case,” but he did not say exactly what that component was.
Missouri law is being criticized for the shooting, but the fact is that Missouri law does not permit Lester’s behavior. Missouri law includes both the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law and the “Castle Doctrine,” but neither applies in this case.
Missouri’s law states that a person has the right to “use physical force upon another person when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such force to be necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful force by such other person.”
The most obvious problem with Lester’s self-defense claim is that his actions were not reasonable. Opening fire through the door without knowing who is on the other side is reckless rather than reasonable behavior. Yarl had committed no crime and there is no evidence that he had exhibited any threatening behavior other than being black. For all Lester knew, Yarl could have been a delivery driver or a meter reader or a good samaritan letting him know his house was on fire.
If Lester was truly in fear for his life, there are other courses of action that he could have taken that were short of opening fire. He could have pretended that he wasn’t home until Yarl went away. He could have talked to Yarl through the door while keeping his gun ready in case the confrontation became violent. He could have called the police to report a suspicious person. If Lester had chosen any of these options, Yarl would not have been wounded and Lester would not be in jail.
Gun and self-defense laws vary by state. If you are going to arm yourself, especially outside the home, you have a duty to become familiar with the laws that apply to you. That includes being familiar with the laws in the states where you may travel. Whatever your opinion of guns and anti-gun groups, the Giffords Center provides an excellent online resource for learning about gun laws in different states. FindLaw also has good explanations of each state’s self-defense laws.
Although the laws vary, there is often commonality. Many states share several aspects of Missouri’s law, including:
Use of force is justified if there is a reasonable belief that you or others are in danger
Deadly force is justified when there is a reasonable belief that you are others are in danger of death or serious injury
Although there is no duty to retreat if you are entitled to be at the location where the confrontation occurs, self-defense laws do not apply if the shooter is the initial aggressor or is involved in a crime
As to what constitutes a reasonable fear, Missouri criminal defense attorney Kevin Jamison, who teaches a course on gun laws and safety, told the Kansas City Star, “I call it the JAM elements.”
JAM is an acronym that stands for:
Jeopardy - a threat of harm
Ability - Can the person carry out the threat?
Means - Does the person have the resources to carry out the threat? This could be a weapon or it could be the physical ability to inflict injury.
I cannot stress enough that you should check the laws where you live. This article does not constitute legal advice.
And that brings us to the biggest problem with constitutional carry, which is the fact that many people who carry, probably the majority, have no training in how to do so safely and legally. They have no proficiency training (including retention training) on their weapon and they have only the vaguest idea of the laws that govern them.
When people are armed and get “scared to death,” it ends with people getting shot unnecessarily. It also ends with people like Andrew Lester going to jail when they didn’t have to.
This is not just anecdotal either. The Kansas City Star points out that Stand Your Ground laws have led to increases in the homicide rate. The 2022 study of 41 states in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that states such as Missouri, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia with Stand Your Ground laws registered increases in the homicide rate that ranged from 16.2 to 33.5 percent. There is also some evidence that concealed carry laws also increase violent crime rates.
While I do support gun rights, including the right to carry outside the home, I also believe that having untrained people who are ignorant of the law carry their guns in public places is a bad idea. I believe that if someone is going to carry a deadly weapon, there should be a requirement that they be trained in general gun usage and safety as well as applicable laws. A brief, inexpensive course and background check leading to a shall-issue license to carry is a reasonable requirement.
In the case of Andrew Lester, who was not carrying outside his home, the requirements should be less stringent, but that still does not excuse Mr. Lester for being so ignorant of the law that he nearly kills an innocent teenager who rang his doorbell.
I’ll say it again: If you choose to carry a deadly weapon, you have the responsibility to educate and train yourself in order to stay out of legal trouble and avoid hurting or killing innocent people.
I’ll also say this, if states are going to permit people to carry deadly weapons in public, they have a responsibility to ensure that those armed civilians are safe and proficient. In far too many states, that is not being done.
I am pro-Second Amendment, but I believe the biggest threat to our Second Amendment rights comes from the unfettered, unsafe use of guns. If the non-gun-carrying public becomes so afraid of gun violence that they overwhelmingly elect anti-gun politicians, that is when gun rights will be lost. We can prevent that by enacting sensible restrictions that minimize the misuse of guns and save lives.
TAX DAY: What day is it? It’s the last day to file your tax return for 2022! File your taxes or file an extension by midnight tonight if you haven’t done so already. Coincidentally, today is also Tax Freedom Day. Tax Freedom Day marks the point at which Americans as a whole have paid the nation’s tax burden for the year.
FOX NEWS DEFAMATION CASE: The trial in the Fox News defamation case started today after a brief delay by the judge. The delay was apparently to try to mediate a settlement. I wrote about the case back in February when discovery revealed that Fox’s on-air personalities didn’t believe the things that they were telling viewers about the allegedly stolen election and hacked voting machines.
CHINESE SPY STATION: The FBI arrested two men in New York on charges of running a secret police station for the purpose of tracking and harassing Chinese dissidents.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: The Supreme Court is hearing the case of a Christian postal worker who refused to work Sunday for religious reasons.
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