“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?

What policymakers can do about gun violence

The deaths of so many children and their teachers and school officials at Sandy Hook Elementary, and of a mother at the hand of her killer son, have caused me to re-visit the subject of national firearms policy, which I thought about night and day for nearly seven years from the fall of 1994 to January 2000.

We must begin by recognizing that the rare problem of rampage or spree shooters who may be suicidal is different from the problem of youth gang violence in inner city neighborhoods that we were primarily focused on during the 1990’s when youth gun homicide rates went through the roof and the primary firearms policy goal was to keep guns out of the hands of teenagers.  In responding to one more shocking shooting of innocents by a deranged young man wielding a military caliber semi-automatic assault weapon, we must build on progress in firearms violence reduction that has continued since President Clinton left office, and pick up where politics halted the Clinton era initiatives. We also must think freshly and strike out in new directions.

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