Concealed Carry & Home Defense

CCW Weekend: Why You Could Shoot A Car Jacker But Not A Car Thief

By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters

According to legend, they used to hang horse thieves, but car thieves just go to prison like everyone else.

There is no more vital piece of property than one’s vehicle, as they are the means to freedom of travel and also to work.

The motor vehicle remains a necessity for almost anyone. What can you do if someone tries to take yours?

Defending one’s self against criminals and other violent actors is definitely the reason one puts on a concealed carry holster and carries a pistol, no doubt about it. However, it isn’t necessarily as simple as drawing and firing at a mugger, bank robber or person invading your home.

As anyone familiar with the basics of self-defense law knows, your life or that of another has to be in clear and present danger in order for a shooting to be justifiable. Does a car theft qualify? Some do, but some don’t, and despite being the most vital piece of property a person arguably owns, a vehicle is still mere property which – for the most part – is not legal to shoot a person over its theft.

There are exceptions (Texas allows for certain instances of doing so as do a few other states) but as a general rule you can’t shoot in defense of mere property.

There are two types of car theft. Car theft is the illegal taking of a motor vehicle from the rightful owner. Carjacking, on the other hand, is depriving the owner of the vehicle by force. It’s like the difference between mere theft and robbery; the latter involves the use of force.

In the case of a carjacking, the perpetrator is using force to take your car away. In that case, the right to defend yourself is implied and in fact guaranteed under Stand Your Ground laws. However, this same protection is not necessarily extended to the latter.

State laws do often authorize the use of force to stop a forcible felony in progress, but use in force in those instances must be proportional to the force being used in commission of the act. In other words, a person stealing a car, but not doing so at the point of a gun or a knife, doesn’t present a lethal threat. Therefore, shooting in this instance wouldn’t be justified.

Bear in mind that this isn’t legal advice; just a discussion of what, given the available information, appears to be the law regarding shooting a car thief.

A car thief doesn’t necessarily pose you a threat of bodily harm, meaning you can’t necessarily shoot. You can detain, certainly, if they are caught in the act, but not necessarily shoot.

For instance, consider this case from Atlanta, Ga.: Raheem Scott, of Atlanta, stopped at a gas station but left his car running in March of 2016. Scott, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution (by way of Guns.com) noticed two car thieves attempting to take his car. Scott exited the gas station, drew his pistol and fired multiple shots, killing one William Blackwell, one of the thieves.

Scott was arrested on murder charges.

You also possibly shouldn’t shoot, especially once a car thief has started driving or running away.

An almost identical instance happened in Atlanta in late June. According to WAGA, an Atlanta, Ga. Fox affiliate, one Josiah Gilbert noticed someone trying to steal his car in the evening of June 23, 2017. He retrieved a firearm and shot the thief, one Marcus Mitchell, who had started running away. Mitchell was hit in the back of the head and died four days later.

Gilbert was initially charged with aggravated assault, which at the time of the reported death of Mitchell was expected to be upgraded to murder.

In Bonney Lake, Wash., one Tobin Panton was sentenced in early Sept. 2017 for an incident that occurred on Nov. 3, 2016, according to The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash. Panton discovered thieves making off with his Jeep from his driveway, which happened to contain tools that belonged to his late father. Panton retrieved his pistol and fired as the thieves sped off. Unfortunately, one of the rounds hit neighbor Linda Green in her living room, killing her.

Panton was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and received 8 years.

Plenty of other real-life instances are out there, should you wish to read into more. The point here is that when it comes to car theft, regardless of whether a person should be given reign to do so, shooting to stop the thief is still not necessarily permissible unless they are threatening lethal force if you don’t relinquish the vehicle or move from their path.

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Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.