Much of this website is dedicated to discussing the benefits of gun ownership for self defense, however it occurs to me that I haven’t yet mentioned one major benefit of armed self defense that extends to the gun owner as well as innocent 3rd parties:
The problem of innocent people being convicted of a crime they didn’t commit
As a law student, and just someone who follows the news, I’ve read case after case in which a crime victim misidentifies their attacker, often leading to the imprisonment or execution of an innocent person. This is generally not due to any intentional wrongdoing on the part of the crime victim, as eye witness identification and human memory are simply unreliable. An example from the news illustrates this problem:
In 1984, Jennifer Thompson was 22 and a student at Elon College in North Carolina when a man broke into her house during the night and raped her. As he assaulted her, she memorized his face, his voice, everything she could about him. She intended to survive, and when it was over, she wanted to put him in prison for what he did.
[Jennifer Thompson identified an innocent man named Ronald Cotton as the rapist, saying that she was 100% sure he was the attacker. The jury believed her, and Cotton was sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. While in prison, Cotton even met the actual rapist, Bobby Poole, who was in prison for another crime – and who admitted to a friend that he had committed the crime for which Cotton had been wrongly convicted.]
Cotton’s break came in 1995 when he was watching the O.J. Simpson trial on television. Attorneys and investigators kept talking about DNA evidence, something he had never heard of before. He contacted his attorneys, who were able to recover one tiny sample of sperm from the rape kit that had been used to treat [Jennifer] Thompson-Cannino 11 years earlier. There was enough DNA in the sample to prove Cotton was innocent and Poole was guilty. [Even with the DNA proof and the actual rapist standing in the courtroom, Jennifer Thompson again pointed to Cotton as her attacker. Luckily, justice prevailed this time around. Cotton was set free after spending 11 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.]
The harms inflicted when an innocent person is convicted
Under even the best situations, when the innocent person is tried but not convicted, they have still suffered the stigma of being brought to trial and having their named dragged through the mud. A high profile arrest makes the front page of a newspaper, but an acquittal months later may get very little attention from the press, ensuring that the damage to a person’s reputation is permanent. Trial is also expensive, and can financially ruin many if not most people. Making matters worse, a person who is indicted for a crime will often lose their job, cutting off their source of income just when they need money the most. For those that are convicted and jailed for a crime they didn’t commit, the precious moment in life like a wedding, a child’s birth, graduation, etc. can be lost forever. Even if they are eventually proven innocent and released from jail, there is long lasting psychological harm and the inability to get back those years or decades that were wrongfully taken away.
Not only is that innocent person’s life destroyed, but having a love one convicted of a terrible crime hurts that person’s whole family. Children are left without a parent, and spouses are similarly deprived. Marriages that could have otherwise lasted a lifetime can crumble to dust. Parents lose their children, and wonder “where they went wrong” in raising the person. Others feel shame even being associated with the person who is now a felon.
The witness who wrongfully identified the innocent person as the criminal suffers too. If the truth ever comes out, the witness is left with the guilt from having deprived an innocent person of their freedom. The witness may also suffer another attack by the same criminal, who is still on the street and therefore able to come back and victimize the same person again.
Society as a whole also suffers when an innocent person is convicted. The true criminal remain on the street but is no longer hunted by police, and is therefore able to victimize another innocent person. Our legal system loses credibility, as each innocent person’s conviction (and the continuing freedom of the true criminal) undermines the confidence that citizens have in our courts, police, and prosecutors. This can lead to vigilante justice, as those who don’t believe that they will get justice in court are more likely to try and take the law into their own hands. Taxpayers also face a burden, as an innocent person who is jailed goes from someone who payed income tax to a person who the state has to spend money to jail and feed. Should that innocent person be able to prove their innocence in the future, the state may have to pay a large sum of money in restitution as well, and that money comes from taxes. There is also the expense of having a prosecutor, judge, courtroom, bailiff, etc. tied up on a trial for someone who is innocent.
How armed self defense can prevent these harms
When a crime victim is able to either shoot their attacker or hold that attacker at gunpoint until the police arrive, the police are better able to positively identify the criminal or even catch them red handed. Such an attacker can be hauled off by the police, and there is then no need to have the victim try and guess whether the person pictured in one of a hundred mugshot photos is really the person who attacked them. Similarly, when a criminal is shot but still gets away, the gunshot wound may force the criminal to seek medical care at a hospital, where they can be more easily found. Should the criminal leave blood behind after being shot, that blood can be used to get a DNA sample, helping ensure a proper identification in crimes where DNA would not otherwise have been recoverable. Along similar lines, even when a wounded criminal escapes, it may be possible to rule out innocent people as suspects by showing that they do not have such a gunshot wound. And this is yet another reason why I support gun rights.