An Open Letter to the Relatives of Criminals who were Shot in Self Defense

Published by the Author on December 14, 2009 at 12:01 am > Pro Gun Rights Articles > An Open Letter to the Relatives of Criminals who were Shot in Self Defense

I’ve previously discussed how the relatives of criminals who are shot in self defense often blame the victim, and sometimes go so far as to make (baseless) legal threats against those discussing the self defense shooting.  My comments to the relatives of criminals who have been shot by their would-be victims are below:

To the relatives and friends of criminals who have been shot in self defense,

I’m sure that it was painful to find out that your loved one had been shot in self defense while trying to victimize another person.  For that, you have my sympathy.  Whether your loved one survived the self defense shooting or not, you may be feeling the urge to lash out at the crime victim who defended themselves.  You may also feel compelled to try and stifle discussion of the self defense shooting.  However, both of those courses of action are unwarranted and unproductive.

Regarding your potential desire to vilify the crime victim who shot your loved one in self defense, please note that the crime victim is just that – the victim.  They didn’t choose to be attacked, but instead were forced to fire in order to save themselves from a violent attack.  Remember, each of us has the basic right to defend ourselves against violence, and fault for the death or injury of a violent attacker lies with that attacker rather than the victim.

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Second guessing the crime victim’s self defense actions, by claiming they used too much force, is also improper. A crime victim who is suddenly attacked by a criminal is caught off guard and has little time to think. They are faced with the prospect of being murdered or permanently injured by the violent act of a criminal. All too often, they also face the very real possibility that a spouse/child/friend will be harmed by that criminal as well. The net result is that crime victims are terrified and have adrenaline rushing through their bodies. They know that they have just a brief time to decide what to do, and that the consequences of failing to stop the criminal are dire. As such, their actions are entitled to a tremendous degree of deference by those who were not there and did not face that terrifying situation – especially since it was the attacker whose criminal actions made self defense necessary at all.  In recognition of those facts, more and more states have adopted “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” laws, which ensure that crime victims who fire in self defense face neither prosecution nor civil liability.

In particular, I would urge you to avoid the temptation to suggest that the crime victim should have intentionally shot to wound. The only way to reliably stop a violent human right away is to disrupt the brain, spine, heart, or certain other vital organs. Even severe bullet wounds to the lung(s) generally won’t stop an attacker right away, as there is enough oxygen in the blood stream that they can keep up their attack for about 30 seconds. This means that shooting only to wound is never appropriate, as a gunshot wound to the leg/arm will not reliably stop the criminal from continuing their attack. Also, under the stress of being attacked, it is much more difficult to aim for a leg or arm than for center body mass. This means that expecting a crime victim to shoot to wound is tantamount to asking them to endanger their own life to save the life of the criminal who is attacking them. Finally, note that any gunshot can be fatal so it is not possible to truly shoot only to wound.

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Regarding your potential desire to block discussion of the self defense shooting, I understand that it is not pleasant to realize that newspapers, bloggers, and other individuals are discussing your loved one in an unfavorable light.  However, I would urge you to avoid the temptation to make baseless legal threats against news reporters, bloggers, and other who report and discuss the self defense shooting case.  Firstly, as a legal matter, the law provides strong protections for free speech.  This is a recognition of the important role which the free exchange of ideas plays in our society.  The result is that barring an extremely unusual case, you simply won’t have a cause of action – and could potentially face a lawsuit yourself if you try and misuse the court system to silence the discussion.

As far as productive uses of your time are concerned, I would suggest taking the time to learn about self defense and to share that knowledge with others.  Chances are, your loved one didn’t think that they would be shot in self defense, otherwise they wouldn’t have attacked their victim.  By helping more would-be attackers to understand that violence towards a victim may get them shot in self defense, you may be able to prevent another loved one of yours from making the same mistake.

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Note: As stated in my bio, I am an Attorney at Law.  However, neither this article nor any other articles on this website constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed through your use of this website.  You can see the full disclaimer for more information.

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  • Cory

    I am impressed that you even took the time to address this situation, and in such a dignified manner. Mine would have sounded more like “Tough, they forfeited their rights when they attacked the victim.” The family should be ashamed that one of their own would act in a criminal manner. They should bury their dead quietly. Yet logic will not deter these people from spouting out about what they ‘think’ the victim should have done. It is not their place to give anyone advice. No media group should give these people a soapbox from which they can preach. Their motivation is simple. It’s emotion. They are angry that a family member is dead, they are frustrated that it was avoidable, they loath the idea that it brought shame to the family. The worst part to them is they cannot act out their anger on the dead guy. They cannot berate or punish the relative, so they go to the next closest person, the victim. Because this is a purely emotion-driven response, reasoning with them is impossible. They will never see the light. That is why they should be ignored.

  • Tanisha

    I would have to agree with 'Cory'.

    I would simply bury my loved one and wonder where I went wrong with them. I wouldn't embarrass myself by trying to defend my criminal relative or put blame on their *would-be victim(s)*. How ridiculous.

    It is called 'cause' and 'effect'.

    If you break into someone's home or attack them…then you're pretty much going to get what is coming to you. Whether it be a sound beating or a bullet up the booty.

    There are always cases like this occurring in Texas: Thieves break in. Homeowner forced to respond with force, etc…

    There was a case last week (san antonio, tx). Briefly: Handyman sees thief. Handyman chases thief. Thief runs into elderly woman's backyard. Elderly woman produces a shotgun and fires several warning shots. Handyman wrestles thief to the ground and with elderly woman holds thief until police arrives.

    Here are others:

    I'm saddened that some of these criminals are so young. They're just kids in my book. This is a horrid waste of life. But, heck — they would be alive if they would've just settled down and lived their lives like decent and good people.

    …and 'decent people' won't break into anyone's home and try to steal from/rape/beat/kill/terrorize/etc…the occupants.

    I can't fault the homeowners. As far as I know, individuals who participate in home invasions can be disturbingly violent.

    So what would the loved ones of these criminals have a homeowner do?

    Wait for them to break into the house then ask him (or THEM) about his (OR THEIR) intentions?

    Wait for them to beat, rape or choke the homeowner out…?