By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters
One of the most often repeated adages when it comes to concealed carry and self-defense is not to shoot “in defense of mere property.” There’s more than one good reason why you shouldn’t. Bear in mind that this isn’t legal advice, so please seek qualified legal advice if you should need it.
First is an ethical reason. If you shoot at someone, that is an instance of using or attempting to use deadly force. If someone is not posing a lethal threat themselves, shooting them is attempting to kill them (or actually killing them) for doing something that’s merely offensive rather than posing grave danger.
Second is a practical reason. Shooting in defense of mere property is discouraged because it can land you in prison. Prosecutors can charge you with attempting manslaughter, or if you actually kill someone, with actual manslaughter.
Granted, this depends on the law of your state and the disposition of local police and prosecuting attorneys, as some are more forgiving than others. There may be laws that allow more leeway in the case of defense of mere property. Texas, for instance, has a provision at law for applying deadly force in defense of property, though it is in limited circumstances.
But what about people who shoot armed bank robbers or people holding up convenience stores? A bank robber or convenience store robber is, after all, only looking to take property, though it would be in the form of currency.
There’s a distinction between robbery, burglary and mere theft. All three are property crimes, as they involve a person taking something that belongs to someone else without permission. It’s how the deed is done that makes the difference.
A robbery is taking something by force. The convenience store, liquor store or bank robber accomplishes the deed by pointing a gun or some other weapon at the clerk or at least implying that they have a deadly weapon and will use it if not given money or other valuables. A robbery, therefore, is a property crime but is also a violent crime.
Burglary, by contrast, is where a criminal illegally gains entrance to somewhere they would not otherwise have permission to be – say a home or a business – and takes property belonging to the legal resident. They may pose a threat to the homeowner, they also may not.
Mere theft is simply taking something known not to belong to the person who takes it. Shoplifting, of course, is theft from a retail store.
Since the laws of nearly every state allow a person to defend themselves with force against a person using force on them, interceding in a robbery or a clerk shooting an armed robber is not usually going to result in charges being filed.
Shoplifters, on the other hand, do not pose a threat per se.
Take, for instance, the case of the Tatiana Duva-Rodriguez. She was the permit-holder who fired at shoplifters fleeing an Auburn Hills, Mich., Home Depot in 2015. The story became a news item, went viral and in the meantime, she was convicted of reckless use of a handgun and stripped of her concealed carry permit.
In late November of this year, a store owner in Mobile, Ala., shot at thieves who had made off with beer from his convenience store. He hit the driver of the getaway vehicle in the shoulder. The driver and the actual thief (whom police are still searching for) are facing misdemeanor theft charges whilst Rakeshkumar Patel, the store owner, is facing two felony charges, according to Mobile NBC affiliate Local15tv.
On Dec. 12, Amy Brewer of Kill Devil Hills, N.C., heard noises outside her home. She armed herself with her .38 Special revolver and went outside to find the source of the disturbance. Two young males attempting to break in fled the residence into a neighbor’s yard, at which time she fired two shots. One was struck in the leg. Brewer called 911 and was cooperative with investigators, but because there was no imminent threat – the two men were fleeing – Brewer is now facing Assault with a Deadly Weapon charges, according to Norfolk, Va., ABC affiliate WTKR.
In these instances, a minor crime – shoplifting in the former two examples and an aborted break-in in the latter instance which would amount more to mere trespassing – was responded to with deadly force. The disparity precipitated the charges.
Burglary, on the other hand, is firmly in a gray area. Some home invasions involve a threat to a homeowner, others do not. Castle Doctrine states don’t impose a duty to retreat or de-escalate if threatened in the home, but what if you find a burglar in your home and they immediately attempt to flee? A self-defense claim can become tenuous when the “assailant” was shot in the back. People have been convicted and jailed for shooting a fleeing burglar and people have not only been exonerated, but never charged in the first place.
In short, it is not a good idea to shoot in defense of mere property, unless the threat to said property includes a threat to life and limb.
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.