03 February 2014

Stand Your Ground, Hell!! I'm Outta Here!; Looking for Common Sense in Florida

Dateline Florida:

Another criminal trial has started which purports to invoke the so-called controversial "stand your ground" statute.

The Florida statute provides:

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

That’s not all that different from the West Virginia statute:

A person not engaged in unlawful activity who is attacked in any place he or she has a legal right to be outside of his or her home or residence may use reasonable and proportionate force against an intruder or attacker: Provided, That such person may use deadly force against an intruder or attacker in a place that is not his or her residence without a duty to retreat if the person reasonably believes that he or she or another is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from which he or she or another can only be saved by the use of deadly force against the intruder or attacker.

The facts of the Florida case as reported in the press are:

Four young black men were at a convenience store in a car with the radio/stereo blasting. An older white man in another car asked them to turn down the volume.  There's no information about whether that request was friendly, neutral or hostile. The young guys refused, and again there is no information about how calm or heated the refusal was. An argument ensued. The older man says he saw a gun barrel appear out of the back window of the younger guys’ car. He drew his own legally carried pistol and fired several rounds. One of the young man was killed. No weapons were recovered by police from the young men's car.

The older man has been charged with murder.

So the press is full of the usual rhetoric – An innocent older citizen defended himself from a bunch of young thugs; or an old racist pistolero assassinated a kid. Both of these "obvious" conclusions come from people who have no more information about this particular case than we do. So once again, the old song lyric lives on:  "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

Since I wasn't there, I have no opinion on what the verdict should be. If the guy is convicted in a fair trial, that’s fine; if he’s acquitted in a fair trial, that’s fine.  

I do have one observation and one conclusion which do seem fairly obvious to me.

The observation: 

Sometimes, "Stand Your Ground" laws protect factually innocent people from culturally or politically popular prosecutions.   If it is always required that one "retreat" from a confrontation, some people will be put in the peculiar legal position of either defending themselves or being shot themselves.

That's a hell of a choice. 

The reason is that in lots of situations, retreating is more dangerous than "standing your ground." There are so many permutations on how conflicts can develop that one simple set of rules is impossible to write. However, you can't out draw a drawn gun and you can't out run a bullet. If retreating adds to the net danger, then retreating is a dumb idea.

It is all fact specific.

Okay – Now the conclusion:

Legal justifications aside, this young man should not have been shot. This confrontation should not have happened. Saying that you do not have a legal duty to retreat has not a great deal to do with whether or not you SHOULD retreat. The shooter may or may not have a legal justification. He does not have a moral justification.

In any confrontation, the default choice always should be to retreat and avoid the confrontation. By "default," I mean that unless you have a really good reason based on probable expected outcomes to remain at the site of the conflict, you need to leave.  Or, if you want high negative indexed terms, you should turn tail, chicken out, take a powder, go home to mama or do anything else that hurts your widdle feelings and pride. The alternative is it you will be involved in a possibly lethal encounter.

This default is magnified tenfold when you are armed. By bearing arms, you're not just exercising a right. There are all sorts of ways to exercise rights in stupid and harmful ways. By arming yourself, you are saying that you are capable of determining when it absolutely is necessary to exert lethal, deadly force against another person in your own defense or the defense of someone else.  You are also promising to keep the weapon holstered and avoid a confrontation unless you have that most compelling reason not to do so.

Assuming that the young guys in Florida had the car speakers wound up to 747 engine volume, they were being damned impolite and demonstrating that if their parents taught them manners, the lessons did not take.

No matter. There are no such thing as mere words that justify any fight, let alone a lethal one. But here, we have a guy who is armed. Any confrontation carries with it a lethal potential. The loud radio is not sufficient to give rise to that potential in the least degree.

"Lethal" sounds like only a moderately distasteful word.  So let’s stop and experience some of the full import:  By "lethal," I mean that you have a bullet impacting someone’s body, tearing a wound channel and killing them by blood loss, shock or destruction of necessary organs.  You have a body, an autopsy and a funeral.  That kind of lethal.  Not a lot of people see gunshot victims.  If you do, you will remember.

I have no idea what was on the shooter’s mind in Florida. Likely, it was not "I'm killing a kid today" but the confrontation should not have occurred. The shooter should not have put himself in a position where the probability increased that he would justifiably draw a weapon.  (“Shooter” is another negative term, but it’s used without pejorative.  He had a gun.  He shot.)

And this has nothing to do with legal responsibility and everything to do with the moral responsibility of every armed citizen.

These unnecessary tragedies seriously dilute the strength of our determination to live as a free people with natural rights, including the right of self-defense. If the armed community does not use constant restraint, intelligence and common sense, we are proving that some of us just cannot be 
trusted with rights. 

And if we prove that, it will be all the easier for those rights to be taken away by a paternalistic government or a spooked majority.

02 February 2014

Why Some People Run Toward Danger When Everybody Else is Running Away - Thoughts from a Guest Blogger

In these hills this day, the Fellowship is in grief.  One of our brothers, Mike Garrett, was killed while making a rescue on 1 February 2014.  Mike was a paramedic at Monongalia County EMS and a volunteer at Nutter Fort (Harrison County) Fire Department.  In the news and on Facebook, the Fellowship is talking, sharing and supporting one another.

You have to wonder what drives these people.  When there is danger, the “smart” thing to do is run away.  They don’t.  They run to the danger and only leave after everyone else is safe.  They know full well that their jobs are dangerous, like so many jobs of service: Not only fire, rescue and EMS, but also the police, the military, the specialty structural or cave teams, and others.

So today, I’m turning these Dispatches over to a guest blogger who has written about those jobs.  An anonymous blogger. Some of what s/he says is from personal experience, and other accounts are from his/her friends.  But all of these things really happened.

“Why do we do it?  

“That’s so hard to say.  Maybe I can tell you about some calls and you can find meaning from them.  

“A fire in the night.  Damn cold.  The radios wake firefighters up at home.  They drive fast to the firehouses to get into bunker gear and drive the engines to the fire.

“When they pull up, someone says, “I think everybody is out.”  Well, then they think they have to go inside and check. From the cold, it is into the heat.  200 degrees near the floor, where they crawl.  More like 800 degrees near the ceiling.

“The heavy smoke means nobody can see past their hands.  It also means that there are unburned hydrocarbons in the air which may erupt in a “flashover.”

“All’s clear.  This time.

“It’s still cold.  Neighbors soon see a sight.  Several firefighters are carrying long lengths of hose which are stiff  and frozen. They will have to thaw it, dry it, and repack the engines.  Then they can go home.

“Here’s a simple one.  The EMT’s are called to take the ambulance to an “unknown problem.”  As they pull up to the scene, the dispatcher gives them more information.  “Wait for the police, this is a shooting.”

“Yeah, they already knew that.  They just got out of the bus and saw the guy with the gun.

“Some trucker rolled his truck on a back road.  Not a pickup, a semi with a trailer.  The trailer is full of canned stuff.  It’s heavy.  The truck is leaning on a couple of locust trees, and they're all that’s holding it up.  There’s a tow truck hooked on from above, but if the truck rolls, that tow truck will flop like a fish at the end of a line.  The truck driver is pinned solid in the wreckage, and he can’t wait for the hour it would take to crib up the truck on a muddy hill.

“Two guys at a time can get in the cab to work.  One of them remarks, “You know, if this SOB rolls, we’re dead.”  The other replies, “Well, I might get out, but you’re toast.”  “Yup.”  They continue to work.  The driver lives.  The rescuers go home, this time.

“It’s not some sort of “aren’t I good and brave” that’s going on in their minds.  There is danger to someone.  

"We have to go. We cannot walk the other way.  We don’t know why.  Except that’s what we do.”

OK, back to Roger.  Do you see the problem?  Those who live this life cannot articulate the feelings.  They just don’t come out.

There is no one who can summarize the reasons that the Caregivers Serve.  The best effort so far may be from the Last Homily of Father Mychal Judge, given at Engine 73/Ladder 42 House in the Bronx on 10 September 2001.  Father Mike was the Chaplain of the FDNY:

. . . 
We come to this house this morning to celebrate renewal, rejuvenation, new life.  We come to thank God for the blessings over all the years - the good work that's been done here and especially the last few days.  We can never thank God enough for the reality of the lives we have.  So, standing in His presence this morning, and truly this is a chapel, let us pause for a moment, perhaps close our eyes, and thank God for some special blessings in our individual lives.
. . .
That's the way it is.  Good days.  And bad days.  Up days.  Down days.  Sad days.  Happy days.  But never a boring day on this job.  You do what God has called you to do.  You show up.  You put one foot in front of another.  You get on the rig and you go out and you do the job - which is a mystery.  And a surprise.  You have no idea when you get on that rig.  No matter how big the call.  No matter how small.  You have no idea what God is calling you  But he needs you.  He needs me.  He needs all of us.  
. . .
What great people.  We love the job.  We all do.  What a blessing that is.  A difficult, difficult job and God calls you to it.  And then He gives you a love for it so that a difficult job will be well done.  Isn't He a wonderful God?  Isn't He good to you?  To each one of you?  And to me!  Turn to Him each day.  Put your faith and your trust and your hope and your life in His hands, and He'll take care of you and you'll have a good life.

The next morning, Fr. Mike responded to the World Trade Center.  The emergency operations office for the City of New York was located in the towers.  Mayor Giuliani asked Fr. Mike to accompany the Mayor and other city officials to another command center several blocks away.  Fr. Mike refused, saying, “I have to stay with my men.”  

Less than 30 minutes later, he was giving Last Rites to one of the first firefighters killed when the first tower collapsed.  Fr.  Mike died with and for his men.

Honestly, I don’t intend or expect that many people will understand fully what drives the Responders and the Caregivers.  And that’s OK.  We understand.  And we believe that God understands, too.

Tonight, I think of Mike Garrett.  And others I have known who died in the line of duty:  Carlos Dillon, Bill Stone, Tom Kickler, Diane Efaw, Eddie Alban, Danny Fernandez, Jim Atkins, Jimmy Yvorra.

Rest easy, departed brothers and sisters.  We’ve got it from here.