Monday, January 21, 2008

Texas: For gun owners, clearer protection in self-defense cases but no shooting upsurge

And optimism about good neighbor Joe Horn

The shootings came fast, a bang-bang-bang cluster of cases starting in early autumn that quickly had police, prosecutors and the media wondering about the sudden impact of Texas' new castle law. A business owner who lives at his West Dallas welding shop killed two men in three weeks as they tried to break in. A 79-year-old homeowner in east Oak Cliff, awakened by his dog, struggled with an intruder before grabbing a shotgun and wounding the man. A retired Army warrant officer managed to kill a gun-wielding robber at a Far East Dallas dry cleaners after his wife surprised the intruder and handed her husband their own 9 mm handgun.

Texas has long had a reputation as a shoot-first-ask-questions-later place, dating back to its frontier days. But the spate of shootings begs the question: Did the castle law - which gives people the right to use whatever means necessary to protect themselves and their property without fear of civil liability - unleash a flurry of gunfire? Perhaps just as important, has the law changed people's perceptions about fighting back? Are they more likely to shoot first even when safe retreat may be an option?

"I think the castle law has more citizens thinking about fighting back, knowing they're protected from being sued later," said Dallas homeowner Dennis Baker. He shot and killed a burglar in October after seeing the man enter the garage where he stored thousands of dollars worth of tools.

But Dr. Gary Kleck, a professor of criminology at Florida State University, doesn't think the castle law governs someone's thinking when they hear a window softly opening late at night, or the crash of a door coming down in a home invasion. "In situations in which people would be making a decision to use defensive violence, it's very unlikely they'd be thinking about laws and penalties," he said. "That would be the furthest thing from their mind."

Certainly the castle law has become a high-profile addition to the Texas statutes since it took effect Sept. 1, but police and the district attorneys association argue that it brought little substantial change. While it appeared to apply to each of these cases, so did a batch of other laws, along with the tradition of Texas juries giving people every benefit of the doubt when protecting themselves, their families and their property.

None of these property owners was charged. Police referred a few cases to the Dallas County grand jury, which declined to indict. In others, police determined that the shootings were justified. And they see the rash of shootings as part of a normal cycle, not a trend. Dallas police homicide investigators said they've yet to encounter a self-defense situation since the castle law took effect that would have been barred under previous laws....

One Texas case in particular has attracted national attention, in part because of the circumstances: It was a neighbor, not the homeowner, confronting and killing a pair of burglars Nov. 14. And the neighbor mentioned in a 911 call that a new law gave him the right to protect himself if he confronted the burglars. The 61-year-old Pasadena man, Joe Horn, told the police operator: "The laws have been changed in this country since September the first, and you know it." .... Seconds later, Mr. Horn can be heard saying, "Move, you're dead," followed by two shots and then a third. "I had no choice," Mr. Horn said in a second 911 call. "They came in the front yard with me, man."

Mr. Edmonds said other property laws could provide a defense for Mr. Horn, whose case is under investigation. "The laws governing the use of force to defend property instead of a person are very broad and very favorable to someone who wants to use that force," Mr. Edmonds said.

More here

Michigan: Four intruders, one shot: "Ann Arbor police have called off the search for a man they originally suspected in a fatal shooting. Andrew Myrick, a 28-year-old University of Michigan student, was inside his house in the 1500 block of Jones Drive on Wednesday night when David Copeland, 29, of Ypsilanti and three other men broke in, Ann Arbor Deputy Police Chief Greg O'Dell said. Two of the suspected intruders were arrested Thursday and charged with robbery. But on Thursday, the Washtenaw County prosecutor called Copeland's death "justifiable homicide," O'Dell said. A third man, Michael Bailey, 20, of Ypsilanti is still wanted, O'Dell said. [More details here]

Individual Right to Arms for Self-Defense Enjoys Solid Support of Public and Police, notes Gun Law Expert: "As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to consider arguments in the District of Columbia v. Heller case on whether or not the Second Amendment refers to an individual right to keep and bear arms, it's important to realize that both general and law enforcement opinion appear to support an individualist interpretation," gun rights expert John M. Snyder stated here today. Snyder cited an ongoing USA Today internet survey indicating that, out of nearly 600,000 participants to date, 97 percent support the individualist approach. He recalled a Rasmussen Reports national survey of 800 likely voters just a few weeks ago revealing that at least 50 percent state someone in the household actually owns a gun. Snyder said that, "for the last two decades, annual national opinion surveys of Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs in the United States conducted by the National Association of Chiefs of Police (NACOP) show that America's command officers support the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms for self-defense and sporting purposes by over 90 percent".

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