Would you have shot him? Why or why not?

Today after taking the kids to school I came home and read this column in the Ottawa Citizen, reprinted from the Edmonton Journal. By the end of the column, my blood was duly boiling. I was outraged on behalf of these people who were victimized by criminals, seemingly abandoned by an ineffective policing system, and then criminalized when they took steps to protect their own homes and businesses. It was like I was a doll with a series of buttons that this piece was expressly designed to push.

So I thought I should take a step back and think about it more carefully.

I was incensed when I read about David Chen, the Toronto shopkeeper who intercepted a shoplifter and, when the thief swore at him and fled, caught and tied him up with the help of two of his employees and held him until the police got there. Mr. Chen ended up charged with assault, kidnapping and forcible confinement. This just seemed stupid to me. The only reason the thief was 'forcibly confined' was because he obviously wouldn't have consented to wait nicely until the police could show up to arrest him. I freely admit that a couple of days ago when I heard on the radio that the charges against Mr. Chen and his employees had been dropped I said "yay", right out loud, through a mouthful of toothpaste.

In the other two cases referred to by Mr. Gunter, there was actual violence -- by shotgun and hatchet. In one of them, one of the burglars died, and the homeowner was given life in prison for homicide. My feelings are less clear for these cases. On the one hand, the burglar that died was trying to climb out a window, so he presented no imminent threat to the homeowner who shot him, and therefore it can't be called self defense. On the other hand, he wouldn't have died if he hadn't been robbing someone's house.

I looked at a few other pieces Mr. Gunter has written, and his tendencies are clearly conservative and against anything that can be deemed appeasement or political correctness. He feels that the justice system has tilted sharply in favour of criminals' rights and away from those of victims. I'm an easy mark for a sentiment like this -- I am a 'good citizen', and I can easily identify with the rage and indignation of people who are repeatedly victimized by criminals and get no satisfaction from the police, until they feel like they have no choice but to take the law into their own hands. I've never robbed anyone or broken in anywhere, so I'm unable to see the criminal's side of it -- how you can be going about your business stealing stuff and suddenly have a bullet in the leg for your trouble (sorry, sorry -- not helpful). I'm not familiar enough with the law to know how much latitude there is in how they are applied. It does seem that there's a difference between shooting someone who has entered your house or business unlawfully and shooting someone just for the hell of it. It must be infuriating when you are told to 'let the police handle it' when it seems that they never do handle it. But it also seems like there might be (oh how I hate this phrase) a slippery slope argument to be made also. Gunter says that criminals have become bolder over the last generation because they know that fewer Canadians have guns. Not only am I a little skeptical of this statement, I also don't want to feel like criminals are less bold only because they think more Canadians have guns.

Anybody want to jump in here? My head is spinning and I haven't even showered yet. I'm about to tackle the Halloween decoration clean-up -- anyone who tries to break in here today is going to get a serious witch's broom over the head.


Mary Lynn said…
Well, I wouldn't have shot him because I wouldn't have had a gun in the first place. (If I did have a gun, I'm sure it wouldn't take much effort for a strong guy to wrestle it away from me anyway.)

I have a lot of sympathy for Chen, who apparently has been dealing with tons of shoplifters over the last few years without getting much assistance at all from Toronto police. I have less sympathy for someone who shoots a guy who's already fleeing his house.

I guess the question is where the line stops between what is a justifiable reaction to someone who is breaking the law and harming either you or your property and what is not justifiable.

For instance, I read a news story yesterday about a guy in Atlanta who'd been arrested for shooting a 17-year-old 10 times, killing him. And what had the 17-year-old done? He'd egged the guy's Mercedes. That is most definitely NOT justifiable.
Gwen said…
Life is precious. More precious than farm equipment, and "valuables", and whatever else may be stolen. And it's everyone's lives that are precious, not just the "good guys". Right or wrong, that's what I believe (yup, I'm a bleeding-heart according to my entire family).

Having said that, security is precious, too. I am blessed enough to live in Ottawa, in a safe neighbourhood, with friends to keep watch while we are away. But I have three small children who depend on me to keep them safe. If someone was breaking into my home, it is my moral obligation to do whatever it takes to prevent the bad guys from getting to my kids. If I happen to see the bad guys fleeing out the window, then THANK GOD! My babies are safe!

It is only the Singleton case that makes my blood boil because Mr. Singleton is trying to protect his wife, by using the only means he has available...the car sounds like it would be too damaged to move. However, other than what was presented in this biased article, I don't know the facts of the case. I just know how I feel.
Nicole said…
I wouldn't have shot him. But I might have thrown my rotting jack-o-lanterns at him.
Anonymous said…
I am a big bleeding-heart liberal. So, you know, take my opinion with the appropriate grain of salt.

As I understand the law, which is only a little, the amount of force you use in defending yourself can only be proportionate to the danger you're in. So, let's say that someone was assaulting me, and I fought back using my fists and my purse. That would be appropriate. But if someone were stealing my bike and I shot that person, it would not be appropriate. I am in no danger, and so therefore wounding or killing someone else isn't OK. This explains, at least a little, why it's not OK to shoot a thief who's fleeing your house.

But leaving all that aside, let's look at Mr. Gunter's biased reporting. He lists 3 cases that occurred in 2 countries over some 10 years, chosen carefully. Are they outrageous? Undoubtedly. Are they representative, and do they provide evidence that our society is falling apart at the seams? No. A quick Google search told me about Stats Can findings that Canada's crime rate fell by 3% in 2009, making it 17% lower than it had been a decade earlier. So, in fact, crime is not on the rise and criminals are not necessarily bolder. Although Mr. Gunter certainly did not feel compelled to pull that fact into the mix.
Rosemary said…
Probably wouldn't have shot him because I felt sorry for him in some way and then I would obsess for years over the fact that I was too nice and afraid to shoot him for some reason and then just hope that I would run into him in the supermarket or something and then I'd get the opportunity to shoot him again but I probably still wouldn't.
Ms. G said…
The Chen situation is outrageous. Seems to me he acted with restraint.
If I found someone in my home and they didn't automatically turn to run, I would shoot them. I wouldn't wait to ask whether they planned on physically harming me or not. If I came upon them already leaving that would be different. Leave please, the sooner the better.
I don't know if life for homicide is appropriate for the case you cited. It was aggravated circumstances.
Has a criminal ever plead that they "wouldn't have robbed those nice folks if I knew they had a gun?" Or, " I wouldn't have robbed those nice folks if I knew they were unarmed and couldn't defend themselves."?
Am I rambling?
I think the adrenalin raised by fear should be considered when charging or sentencing victims who react.
There. I just deleted a whole lot more to rescue you from having to read all of it.
Anonymous said…
Sometimes the law is truly, truly twisted. It is not only black or white. There are grey areas we need to consider. Our courts are tied up trying to make sense of it all and unfortunately, err too often with the wrong side.

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