THE VIEW FROM MY PLACE: Rights and wrongs
You're old. Your days of taking on the playground bully are long gone. Getting out of bed is a chore. You spend more time at the doctor's office and reading obituaries than anything else. You worry about many things; not the least of which is whether or not you could ever defend yourself, or your loved ones, from an aggressor.
It's 1 a.m. You wife wakes you and says, "I think I hear someone downstairs."
This is your worst nightmare. You, too, hear someone downstairs. What are you going to do? Are you going to pull the covers up over your head and pretend you're not hearing the footsteps that your ears know they hear? Are you going to jump out of your window? No great plan, no matter how high the jump.
You do have a pistol that belonged to you father. You can't remember the last time you fired it, but you know where it is and that you have bullets for it. Your fear is now on par with all other emotions and rational thought. You make the decision to find and load the gun. You're now very quietly walking down the carpeted steps; not making a sound.
There's not a lot of light. It appears as though the intruder does have a flashlight and that may be where what little light there is, is coming from. You're close enough now so that you can see that it is a man. He looks larger than he probably is. You cannot tell how old he is, but it's clear to you what his intentions are. He's ripping you off.
You're heart's racing, but you finally find the courage to speak. "Get out of my house," you say.
It all happens very quickly. The man turns. The light hits your eyes and blinds you. The man shouts an obscenity, which you interpret as threatening. There's no time to think. You point your gun at the light and squeeze the trigger. The gun explodes with a discharge of an orange flame that seems to reach out ten feet. The flashlight flies up in the air and lands with a thud on the floor.
Then all is silent. If you thought your heart was racing a minute ago, it's doing a marathon now. You're experiencing your first ever adrenaline dump. Your fear has just about paralyzed you. In what feels like an eternity, you finally come to grips with the situation and look for a light switch. When the light comes on, there he is; apparently dead on the floor in your house.
There was nothing you could do. He was in your home. You thought you were within your rights to take the action you took. You call the police who tell you later on that the 17 year old kid was unarmed.
They start asking you questions like, "could you have gotten away" or "could you have hidden somewhere?" "What made you think this man was there to do you harm versus just steal from you?"
It's not long before you feel more like a criminal than the man who broke into your home. You look at the officer and ask, "Should I get a lawyer?" The officer replies, "Probably not a bad idea."
I wonder how many of you out there believe that you have the absolute, unequivocal right to defend yourself in your own home. I bet most of you do. If so, you might consider doing a little research.
It seems like every day there is a story in the paper about yet another burglary and/or robbery. There are more junkies out there than there used to be; say nothing about just plain bad guys. There was a time when we never had to worry about locking our doors, but those days are over.
I asked Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell for some advice on self-defense in the committal of a crime in your home. He was extremely helpful and guided me to some case law and news articles. One well known article was about a woman in Rutland who had an intruder in her home. She bought a gun for protection. Sure enough, she had another intruder and she fired at him. She missed. She was informed that had she hit him that he might be able to bring charges against her for using deadly force. If so, she might've gone bankrupt defending herself.
OK, I'm sorry here. Yes, I consider myself to be a liberal. Many consider me to be a wicked, rabid liberal (that's their problem). However, when it comes to defending myself, my home, and my family, I'm a pretty conservative guy. I'm a martial artist and feel pretty confident in my ability to defend myself. If someone breaks into my home, they aren't there to watch TV. They are a threat; straight up, plain and simple.
If, for whatever reason, you make the decision to enter into someone's home uninvited then all bets should be off. But they may not be. Maybe it's time to codify what most Vermonters believe to be law.
Bob Stannard is a Banner columnist.
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