“Defensive gun use” in practice

Since when seconds count the police are minutes away, a brave and self-reliant West Virginia homeowner engaged in the sort of defensive gun use that proves the value of an armed citizenry. Seeing two strangers breaking into his shed, he acted like a real American and blew the perps away with a scoped rifle. (Remember, the best form of gun control is a steady aim.) He then called the police to report his heroic deed.

Alas for Rodney Bruce Black (and the two DOAs) he was – like Rick when he went to Casablanca to take the waters – misinformed. The shed was not, in fact, on Black’s property, but on the property the two dead men had just purchased. So now we have two corpses and one man in jail for murder.

Three queries for lawyers:

1) To what extent does the right to use deadly force to defend one’s home extend to out-buildings?

2) Am I correct in thinking that, for a householder dealing with an intruder, there is no legal obligation to make a verbal challenge before shooting?

3) Mistake of law is, of course, no defense. But mistake of fact is. Assuming what appears to be true – that Black had a good-faith, though mistaken, belief that he was defending his property – can he offer that as a defense and try to get what looks as if it will be a second-degree murder charge (though the news story reports that the arrest charge was first-degree, which doesn’t seem right in the absence of premeditation) broken down to manslaughter?

A new kind of arms race with the NRA

A key challenge for gun policy reflects the asymmetric passions of the two sides. The National Rifle Association and its allies hold unpopular views in the country at-large. Yet they want it more. They are more passionate, more organized, and more focused on promoting their agenda than the majority of Americans who oppose them. Link that with our legislative structures that magnify the influence of rural areas most likely to hold pro-NRA views, and you see where this is going.

Right now, because of Newtown and related atrocities, there is a window of opportunity for people who feel passionately on the other side. Yet we all know that this window of opportunity may quickly close. The public spotlight and the newspaper headlines will soon move to the debt ceiling or other matters. Americans will still be sad and angry about the continuing toll of gun violence. Yet these feelings are unlikely to translate into effective legislative action.

durbin presser

Unless that is, the more liberal side on gun policy finds new innovative strategies.

Over at CNN.com. my University of Chicago colleagues Ethan Bueno de Mesquita and Jens Ludwig offer an intriguing suggestion:

The key for gun control proponents is to figure out how to turn people’s willingness to take a single action in a moment into an effortless and sustainable long-term commitment.

Here’s one way to defeat the NRA: Ask people who are upset about this recent shooting to go online and sign up for automatic, monthly deductions to a fund devoted to breaking the grip of the NRA.

For every dollar the NRA spends in helping a political candidate, this new fund would spend $2 to help the opponent (whether in a primary race or general election). Many politicians are currently afraid that opposing the NRA would lead the organization to stop providing their campaigns with either cash contributions or in-kind support (such as advertisements and other forms of advocacy). Creating a fund that guaranteed a two-to-one match of NRA support — but for the other side, ideally who supports stronger gun control — would weaken the NRA’s political clout.

And how much should gun control proponents ask people to pledge? According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA spent about $20 million on political activities in the 2012 election cycle; including a little more than $1 million on direct campaign contributions and around $8.5 million on independent campaigns in support of congressional candidates.

Will this work? I don’t know. There is a static quality to their analysis that bears watching. If liberal groups go head-to-head with the NRA, conservatives are sure to follow. A different kind of arms race may well ensue.

I hope Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, or some similar wealthy gun control advocate takes this seriously. Much conventional political conversation reflects the conventional wisdom of the 1990s: Gun control is simply too toxic. That may be an outdated view…. Continue Reading…