Whenever we hear of someone using excessive force, it is frequently a police officer who is being accused of losing rational control. Memories of Rodney King come to mind. This article attempts to define excessive force, and to point out that anyone could be guilty, such as in most domestic violence cases. This idea was brought to my consciousness by a series of local news reports about a man who shot and killed an intruder in his home. What shocked me about the event was the audio replay of the 911 tape of the homeowner reporting the break-in. The home owner is breathlessly reporting how many times he shot the intruder. The startled 911 operator questions the home owner to verify that s/he heard correctly.
I've spent quite some time searching the internet for evidence of this 911 recording, but I found surprisingly little documentation about the event except for this fairly uninteresting report from the Dallas Morning News. I'm beginning to suspect that the homeowners defense lawyers have removed that information from public scrutiny, even though the home owner hasn't been charged with any crime at present. I have no desire to prejudice anyone's court proceeding, so I won't share what I remember hearing on television.
None the less, the issue is still very relevant. Where do we draw the line between self-defense and excessive force? Legally (and philosophically) we are justified in using "just enough" force to stop or prevent violence against ourselves and our families. When I attended a concealed handgun course shortly after relocating to Texas, it was explained that we were obligated to avoid confrontation if at all possible. The scale of acceptable responses loosely followed a sequence of: walk away; run away; shout verbal warnings that you are armed; brandish the pistol threatening to shoot; continue to retreat until retreat is impossible; and finally as a last resort, pull the trigger to shoot your assailant. We were advised never to use hollow point bullets, or admit any intention to "shoot to kill". If a shooting did occur, we were advised to call an ambulance immediately in order to demonstrate (to any future jury) our regret that the shooting was necessary, and our sincere desire to keep the assailant alive if at all possible.
While I agree that fatally shooting your assailant should be your very last resort, I'm certainly not going to do very much retreating in my own home if I'm armed. I agree with Vince Lombardi that the best defense is a good offense. I will do my everything I can to convince you that you should depart under your own power while you still can, but I'm not going to feel chatty when threatened with any type of a weapon. I recommend that we analyze this problem now, before any serious threat makes itself known. Where should we draw the line between self-defense and excessive force?
Ethically, you can only do what is absolutely necessary to save your life, or someone else's. If you've scared someone with your gun and they are now running away from you, it is too late to shoot. If they are running away, they no longer pose an immediate threat, and merely the presence of your gun was sufficient to save your life. It is estimated that 90% of the two million occurences where a handgun is used, the crime is prevented in this manner. If you shoot your assailant once and they fall down (which is probable when you use a .45), you can stop shooting. Continuing to shoot would be excessive force because the assailant is no longer a threat. (Not to mention you're also wasting ammunition.)
While I strongly and vociferously defend your right to defend your life, you should recognize that you have never been given a license to kill like Hollywood's James Bond. After you've saved your physical life, there is still a very real threat to your Liberty. You may very well have to convince a jury of your peers that the actions you took were reasonable and measured under the circumstances. If you stop to reload before you continue shooting, it will probably be considered excessive force on your part. Photos of you smiling over the corpse are probably not a good idea, either.
Do you know anyone who has found themselves in similar circumstances? What did they do? What would you do if you were faced with the same thing?