The law is a grand thing, a collection of not merely statutes, but also precedents from previous cases, and when a legal innovation comes along, sometimes there have to be a few test cases to determine the boundaries of that new law. Do Nazis have the right to march in Skokie? (yes) Can ‘intelligent design’ be taught as science? (no) Just how
black dangerous-seeming does someone have to be before it’s legal to shoot them on your property, and if you really really want to shoot a criminal, any criminal, can you lay out a trap to entice one onto your property? (undetermined) Thankfully, with a lot of states broadening the scope of what counts as “self defense,” several brave Responsible Gun Owners have taken to killing folks for the sake of finding out what kinds of homicide are justified. No applause necessary; these everyday Second Amendment Heroes just see it as their civic duty.
Both of the cases the Washington Post examines involve Responsible Gun Owners whose homes had been burglarized, but didn’t happen to be home to defend their castles that first time, so instead of just waiting for an opportunity when their schedule coincided with that of a thief’s, they laid traps to make their homes seem like attractive burglary targets, then lay in wait so they could bag a perp. You have to admit it’s much more efficient to make a crime more likely to happen than to secure your house and hope someone will actually break in. What’s the sense in having to rely on criminals’ notoriously laggardly work routines?
According to David LaBahn, the head of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys,
More than 30 states have laws expanding the self-defense principle known as the “castle doctrine,” a centuries-old premise that a person has the right to defend their home against attack, LaBahn said. The name evokes the old saying, “my home is my castle.”
The laws have generally made it easier for people to shoot other people if they feel threatened, regardless of actual danger or whether the person they shoot was armed.
In Missoula, Montana, hero homeowner Markus Kaarma was arrested Sunday after shooting a 17-year-old German exchange student in his garage. Kaarma and his partner, Janelle Pflager, had set up a trap in the garage after recent burglaries, which they thought might have been committed by someone in their neighborhood. So they left the garage door open, and a purse in plain sight, with video cameras and a baby monitor to watch it, and Mr. Kaarma waited up watching the video monitor. The day of his arrest, he told a hairdresser that he’d waited up three nights with a shotgun so he could “shoot some fucking kid.” And on the third night — which sounds almost Biblical — lo, he saw someone on the video monitor, so he went out his front door, walked to the garage, and fired his shotgun four manly times without saying a word, because why would you want to alert an intruder to your presence? And by golly, he killed him an intruder, Diren Dede, an exchange student from Hamburg, Germany.
Kaarma’s attorney, Paul Ryan (no relation), intends to defend Kaarma under a Montana law that allows deadly force when someone believes it’s necessary to prevent an assault or a forcible felony. And it doesn’t matter that Kaarma set up the situation, says Ryan:
“He was scared for his life. It shouldn’t be up to a homeowner to wait and see if (an intruder) is going to shoot him when he announces himself,” he said.
We bet it was really exciting and kind of scary to find that your trap had someone in it, and that you finally got the chance to blow away a bad guy who walked into the open garage door you set up for him. (No, we are not justifying burglary — Dede should not have gone into the garage. He also should not have been murdered by an asshole who set up a special fort where he planned to shoot someone and get away with it.)
In another case, just concluded, Byron Smith of Little Falls, Minnesota, was convicted of premeditated murder Tuesday after claiming self-defense in a somewhat similar situation — his home had been burglarized, so in 2012, he decided to set a trap and kill him a burglar, a neighbor girl he believed responsible for the break-in. So he made his house look vacant by parking his truck away from the driveway, then waited in his basement with snacks, his guns, and a novel, because even when you’re staking out your own home to kill a teenager, you need some entertainment. He even had a tarp ready in the basement to wrap the intruder’s body in — smart fellow, thinking ahead like that. He also set up an audio recorder to capture all the excitement.
And so, as it turns out, two teenagers, 18-year-old Haile Kifer and 17-year-old Nick Brady, broke into his house through a window, and eventually made their way down to his basement, where he shot them dead:
Brady descended the basement stairs first, and Smith shot him three times, saying “You’re dead.” He dragged the body to another room and waited until Kifer followed, and he shot her. “You’re dying,” he told her, according to the audio recording.
After killing the teens, Smith also said, on the recording, “I don’t see them as human. I see them as vermin.” No, he doesn’t seem nice at all.
The jury didn’t seem convinced by Smith’s defense that he was in fear for his life in the little sniper’s nest that he’d set up, and sentenced him to life in prison without parole. His attorney, Steve Meshbesher, said that he plans to appeal, since the judge hadn’t allowed the introduction of evidence that the teens had been involved in previous burglaries in the area, on the grounds that Smith could not have known anything about his targets’ history at the time he was filling them with holes. The prosecutors said that protecting yourself is one thing, but setting up a shooting gallery is quite another. It’s like these prosecutors think there are limits to the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to kill people who piss you off.
And so our glorious experiment in ground-standing continues; future cases will no doubt help us gain a better understanding of just when it becomes OK to purposefully set a trap for a human being you want to kill. We bet there will be lots of volunteers from the Responsible Gun Owning community to serve as the armed portion of those experiments, and tough shit for those who get killed, because they never should have been there in the first place.
Follow Doktor Zoom on Twitter. He’s a fan of the behavioral sciences, though not so much the ones where the test participants get autopsied.