The Difference Between Can and Should

Last Saturday a man was shot and killed near Silver Lake. This is a small lake with a swimming area and parks, and I spent a lot of time there when I was younger; swimming, picnicking; the sorts of things one does at a recreational area.

A gun is not a solution; it’s the tool you resort to when all other options have been exhausted. It is the LAST resort, not a hammer for every nail.

It was a typical summertime weekend afternoon at the park. Suddenly a man walking his dog started screaming obscenities, deployed a metal baton and began chasing people, including a grandmother with her grandchild. He is not reported to have actually struck anyone, but the situation had potential to end badly. It did.

A bystander intervened verbally, and the man with the baton pepper-sprayed him and struck him repeatedly with the baton. Another man also attempted to intervene, and at some point deployed a concealed handgun and shot the suspect twice. The suspect was transported to a nearby hospital and subsequently died. The shooter was detained and questioned, but no charges have been filed. It appears that the authorities are inclined to view this as a justifiable homicide.

In Washington state rules regarding the use of lethal force in self-defense are that the person employing force must have a reasonable belief that they or another innocent party are in imminent danger of death or grave bodily harm. Someone shouting that they are going to kill you is not enough, unless they have a demonstrated capacity to carry out that threat at that time. This would be demonstrated by that person by brandishing or using a weapon.

By this standard the authorities appear to be inclined at this time to view this as a justifiable shooting, and no charges have been filed. But there’s a difference between ‘justifiable’ and ‘necessary’ that needs to be examined here.

First things first. I was not there. I did not witness the incident, and we do not have all of the facts available to the witnesses, the shooter, the police or courts. Let’s take a look at what we do know.

The weapon deployed by the suspect is considered a ‘Less Lethal’ weapon. This is a weapon that while capable of producing a lethal injury it is not intended to do so. Police batons, pepper spray, rubber bullets and TASERs all fall into this category. Simply striking someone with this weapon is unlikely to produce ‘death or grave bodily harm.’ The suspect also used pepper spray, another ‘Less Lethal’ weapon.

Second, the suspect was obviously deranged and violent, but did not necessarily represent an immediate threat of death or grave bodily harm to either the shooter or the man he had pepper-sprayed. He had deployed a potentially lethal weapon, but had not yet used it in a manner likely to inflict death or grave bodily harm but the potential for both was undeniably present.

Based on the information available to us this appears to be a legally justified shooting. But the question that comes up in my mind is was it necessary? The use of lethal force is the court of last resort, to be employed only when it is the least bad solution to the problem. Looking at the information we have the shooting was justified, but may not have been the least bad response.

We do not, cannot know what was in the mind of the armed citizen that shot the suspect, or what combination of thoughts, experience and immediate circumstances led him to resort to deadly force, but put yourself in the situation for a moment and think about it. Is there something else that could have been done? Might it have been better to use a lesser degree of force? Would it have been better to observe the situation without direct intervention, but be ready if it became necessary?

My inclination, based on the facts available to us is that I would not have resorted to lethal force. I would have stood ready to intervene if necessary, and that intervention might have been an unarmed response. But I’m a large, well trained and physically-capable man. I also have a good understanding of the weapons employed by the suspect. That’s not true of everyone; we are each individuals and need to make decisions based on our own unique circumstances, which will inevitably result in different outcomes. In some cases these factors may result in a sub-optimal outcome, but it might be the best that could reasonably be hoped for.

If you carry a weapon for self-defense you need to be aware of and consider all of the options in a situation. It is immensely helpful to consider situations like this in detail and be aware of those options before you find yourself having to respond. It can literally be the difference between life and death, and not just yours.

Stay safe and take care.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 8 July 2021

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