Each week, I discuss a tiny percentage of the armed self defense cases that occur. My goals include raising awareness of the fact that armed citizens successfully defend themselves every day, pointing out the less obvious benefits of armed self defense, and debunking the anti self defense myths that pervade the mainstream media. Over the last few months, I’ve noticed more and more relatives and friends of dead criminals, who were fatally shot in self defense by their would-be victims, searching out websites such as LearnAboutGuns.com and then trying to prevent those self defense cases from being discussed. An example of this, and my thoughts on the matter, are discussed below:
“Legal” threats as an attempt to block the discussion: an example
A while back, I discussed a self defense shooting case from Sorrento, Florida, where a lawn care equipment burglar was reportedly caught in the act by the homeowner. When the burglar lunged at the homeowner, the homeowner shot the burglar in self defense, according to police. Brett Lee Canada, who had previously been arrested for a similar crime, was found dead at the scene and named as the burglar. The homeowner was unharmed, and didn’t face any charges for his rightful self defense action.
In that article, I began by discussing the facts as reported by the local newspaper. I then shifted focus to self defense in general, and discussed the importance of being able to defend oneself and one’s family against unexpected attack by criminals. In response, a person named Barbara, who seems to have been a relative or friend of Brett Lee Canada, left a comment which included the following:
WOW violent huh, you might just want to get your facts straight before posting this crap. You never know you may end up sued. . . Stealing is wrong, murder is worse.
After receiving the above comment, I replied and explained that lunging at the homeowner would constitute a “violent” act, and that self defense is not murder. I also noted that I was an attorney, and as such knew that her statement about suing lacked any legal merit. Apparently not interested in debating the substantive self defense matters, Barbara continued to make legal threats in an effort to block my discussion of that self defense case. She even went so far as to assert that articles from LearnAboutGuns.com (which were written long before this self defense shooting) somehow made her (non-existent) legal claim stronger:
. . . I guess that would be up to 12 jury members wouldn’t it. Maybe you will get lucky and find out. . .
Hopefully I will get to see you in about three to six months. But before I go, just want to thank you for all the material that you have provided [asserting that my further discussion somehow bolstered her (non-existent) legal position] . . .
The conversation went downhill from there, and I basically ignored her legal threats. I posted some links to articles discussing self defense, and explaining why each of us has a right to defend ourselves against violent attack. It appears the my statements fell on deaf ears.
The utter lack of a legal basis for Barbara’s threats
As an attorney, I found Barbara’s legal threats to be laughable. To very briefly summarize: First and foremost, it is impossible to defame a dead person, meaning that anything I said about Brett Lee Canada would not be actionable in the first place, as a matter of law. This means that even if Barbara were to file a lawsuit, it would be thrown out right away by the judge, without the “12 jury members” she spoke of ever coming into play. Secondly, in that story I merely quoted and paraphrased a news report, attributing the statements of fact to their authors. This is the same thing that newspapers do to avoid liability for defamation should the facts they print turn out to be untrue, again defeating a defamation claim. Indeed, this level of care on my part was unnecessary since no liability could attach for defaming a dead person, but I believe in attributing facts just as a matter of principle. Thirdly, in order to succeed at a defamation claim, it is necessary for the complained-about statement to be untrue, which is something that it seems Barbara would have a very difficult time with indeed. In sum, any one of the three above discussed points would be enough to prevent her threatened defamation lawsuit from succeeding. The presence of all three just make this into one of the most clear-cut examples of non-defamatory speech that I can think of. Rather than being liable myself, I might even be able to state a claim Barbara under an anti-SLAPP law, should she attempt to so abuse the court system. [Note: As always, nothing on this website constitutes legal advice. See the full disclaimer here.]
Why such baseless threats are still a problem
What does concern me is the chilling effect upon speech that people like Barbara can have, when they threaten non-lawyers. When someone who doesn’t understand defamation law is threatened as I was, they may take down the article out of fear. Readers who would have provided insightful comments may also be afraid to speak their mind. The end result is that pro gun and pro self defense speech is blocked. Given the importance of gun rights and self defense, the blocking of this speech is a loss for us all.
This is a problem for which I don’t have a solution. The law already provides broad protections for speech about matters of public concern (e.g. self defense shootings) – but that protection only means something if the speaker knows the law. I’m going to have to give thought to this issue, and hopefully come up with some ideas as to how non-lawyers can be helped when faced with this sort of intimidation attempt. Any suggestions would certainly be appreciated, and can be left as comments below.