As April ended, two remarkably similar homicide cases created headlines, one ending, the other just beginning. In both situations, men trapped and executed clean-cut teens who’d entered their property. In both cases, the perpetrators claimed they were trapping burglars and doing the job of police.
Except it’s not the duty of police to execute trespassers or even burglars.
Here is where opinions split: Property and guns-rights advocates believe their position trumps human rights including the right to life. The counter view is that human life is far more precious than mere things. Mixed into this madness is Florida’s insane Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law that’s metastasized to other states.
To speak out against the SF/SYG law is to invite challenges that one is anti-gun (and by extension, anti-American). I’m not, in fact, I’m an owner. My father was an incredible marksman and my mother put food on the table with her own carbine. To rural families, rifles were tools, not toys. Happiness wasn’t a warm gun and that’s where I step apart from those who lovingly stroke their weapons. Something’s terribly wrong in our culture.
Lines of Fire
One example: A former employee of mine– a likable guy if he wasn’t such a bonehead– got into a mess with the wives of a couple of his neighbors. (Yep, I said he was a bonehead!) One of the husbands threatened to send around a recently out-of-prison convict who liked to hurt people.
When I suggested he beef up his home security, bonehead said, “Why? I don’t lock my doors, I’m waiting for them. Laid out my trip wires, planned my field of fire, I can cover most of the house from one hallway.”
My jaw didn’t drop, but it wanted to. He absolutely believed that protected by Florida’s laws, if anyone stepped foot on his property, he had a right to kill them. No DA would prosecute him, no court would convict him.
(And indeed, we’ve seen teens shot for taking shortcuts across lawns and a lost man killed for simply knocking on a door for directions. “Fear for one’s life,” that’s the pass-phrase of the SF/SYG law.)
So in a house with three children and usually one or two women (girlfriends, other men’s wives), he could have taken a dozen precautions to avoid conflict, but instead, he preferred to lie in wait, armed and thirsty for blood, convinced it wouldn’t be his.
The sheriff’s department may have had a quiet word with one or more parties, but the drama died down. One of the wives returned to her husband and baby, and the other wife went on to advance her career in stripping and finding a new sugar daddy.
But what if one of those men had knocked on the door one evening? What if anyone, any kid, walked in, tripping the invisible fishing lines? Another death and the resident saying, “Yep, I feared for my life.”
|Haile Kifer and Nick Brady|
That brings us to the Minnesota case. Thanksgiving Day, 2012. A man’s home had been burgled. For reasons that aren’t clear, he believed it would happen again. His extensive preparations included setting up a recording system and preparing a hidey-hole (a so-called ‘deer blind’) stocked with a novel, an easy chair, a hunting rifle, a handgun, food and water… and a tarp. Eschewing dinner with friends and family, he made the home appear unoccupied and retreated to his ‘deer blind’.
And then he waited. He waited until 17-year-old Nick Brady descended the cellar steps and, like a hunter, he wounded him, mocked the downed boy, then executed him and wrapped him in the tarp.
And then he waited. He waited until 18-year-old Haile Kifer descended the steps whispering “Nick?” He fired again and his automatic jammed. He cleared it as the girl cried, “Oh, my God,” and shot her, taunting her before and after administering a coup de grâce.
A man who’d seen too many Dirty Harry movies, he recorded a chilling justification, calling the teens vermin. The tape that was supposed to be his saving grace in court, became his undoing. Sympathy for a man with a burgled property became horror toward a man without feeling, without regard for the young lives he’d taken. It’s impossible to say what the verdict might have been without the recording, but the jury took only three hours to sentence Byron Smith to life in prison.
On the night of 27 April, two Montana homeowners 300 miles apart shot teens in their attached garages. One was a house guest and seminary student who stepped into the garage to make a phone call without disturbing the rest of the family. The owner of the house, not bothering to identify his target, brought the boy down with a blast to the chest.
To the west in Missoula, a security specialist and his girlfriend turned his garage into a lethal trap for presumed teen burglars. They activated surveillance equipment and then sat up and waited.
Janelle Pflager had baited the trap with her purse sitting out, left the garage door ¾ open, and switched on a monitor. When a motion sensor tripped, Markus Hendrik Kaarma grabbed his shotgun and headed outside to confront the intruder.
Kaarma shotgunned 17-year-old Diren Dede, a high school junior, talented athlete, and foreign exchange student. It’s not clear why Dede entered the garage. I’ve been known to close my neighbors’ doors, but we don’t know.
But follow this: Kaarma announced in advance he wanted to "shoot some ƒ-ing kid." Although he said he didn’t want the boy to get away, that he wanted him caught and that the police can’t catch burglars in the act, he invoked the magic words of the SF/SYG law: He said he feared for his life and thought he was going to die.
See, Montana aped the Florida Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law, supplanting wording of the ancient Castle Doctrine. Indeed, Kaarma’s attorney announced he’d use those very provisions to defend his client.
As pro-gun lobbyist Gary Marbut explains, the SF/SYG “revisions allow a structure’s resident to be presumed innocent when using lethal force to defend his or her property.” So innocent, in fact, that in the early months of Florida’s law, 100 shooters who would have otherwise been prosecuted and possibly imprisoned were not arrested, not prosecuted, not convicted, or had charges dismissed due to Shoot First / Stand Your Ground.
Montana State Representative Ellie Hill, a Second Amendment supporter, doesn’t oppose the historic version of the castle doctrine, but she takes issue with the Shoot First / Stand Your Ground provisions added in 2009.
“What the [new law] has done in this country is it has created a culture of gun violence and vigilante justice,” Hill said, “and it’s created a culture that it’s OK to shoot first and ask questions later… What’s missing from the law is common sense.”
And that’s the problem. What are your views?