Dear Post-Ferguson Lawyers: Shut. Up.

I find it annoying when people insist on opening their mouth on a topic where they have clearly not spent an iota of time and effort to educate themselves properly. I ranted some time ago about self-styled gunstore lawyers who hand out stupid and counterproductive “legal” advice to vulnerable people who need solid information. We’ve now come upon a whole new manifestation of this kind of idiocy.

The events in Ferguson have given rise to a whole crop of people suddenly speaking with great conviction on matters where it’s obvious that they haven’t the first damned clue. Case in point is this load of bollocks from “Reason” magazine wherein the author wastes a bunch of electrons shotgunning idiocy across the internet. His article boils down to this quote:

“As I noted yesterday, the likelihood that Darren Wilson would have been acquitted if he had faced a homicide charge in connection with the death of Michael Brown does not mean he should not have been indicted.”

Mr. Sullum isn’t alone in holding that particularly idiotic interpretation of the grand jury verdict, as I’ve heard boatloads of sudden legal experts explaining why Officer Wilson should have been indicted and put on trial, complaining that the grand jury hearing isn’t supposed to be a criminal trial or insisting that it was improper for the prosecutor’s office to put all of the evidence forward. It’s abundantly clear that none of these people have ever actually looked at how self defense cases are handled before. If they bothered to do even a little bit of research they would discover that grand juries routinely hear testimony and see evidence of self defense claims. Police uses of lethal force are (often as a matter of law or policy) brought before a grand jury so that citizens can evaluate the claims made by agents of the state who use lethal force on fellow citizens. When a non-sworn ordinary Joe defends themselves that is often brought before a grand jury as well.

As Andrew Branca, a real lawyer who has actual experience with self defense cases, explains in this excellent article (which all of you should read) a self defense claim is rather unique. Ordinarily shooting someone is against the law and someone accused of having shot another person claims that it wasn’t them. (Sort of like how Mr. Brown’s family claims that it wasn’t Mr. Brown in the video robbing a convenience store shortly before his death.) A self defense claim is fundamentally different: The person making the claim is saying “I shot Bob there because Bob was trying to kill me.” If that claim is credible and reasonable then shooting Bob was not a crime. When someone makes a self defense claim it is routine for evidence and testimony relevant to their claim to be presented to a grand jury.

To give you an example, I will use the experience of a police officer friend of mine who was involved in the use of lethal force. He was working patrol one night when he spotted a car that matched the description of a BOLO (Be On the Look Out) he’d heard the pre-shift briefing on. He pulls over the vehicle because it’s broken several traffic laws and initiates contact with the driver, a  man who matches the description of a suspect in a couple of armed holdups. My officer friend plays the stop routinely and extremely cool as he waits for backup to show up. Unfortunately the suspect has no intention of letting things happen that easily…he retrieves a handgun from under his seat, gets out of the car, and advances.

My friend had a feeling things could go down this way and was ready…and as soon as he saw the suspect go under the seat he got out of his cruiser and drew his weapon. When the suspect sprang out of the car he placed himself directly into the sight picture of a very well trained police officer. The officer immediately fired his sidearm twice, hitting the suspect two times in the chest with what would prove to be fatal wounds.

A full homicide investigation followed because that’s routinely what happens with any homicide. The officer had to give multiple statements. A very brief one to detectives on the scene, and then a more lengthy one in an interview room back at the police station. His statements explained his actions leading up to the moment where shots were fired and his state of mind when he made the decision to pull the trigger. At the scene the investigators gathered physical evidence including the spent shell casings from the officer’s weapon, actually collecting the officer’s sidearm, crime scene photography that carefully measured every piece of physical evidence (which took a couple of hours…remember how people complained about Mr. Brown laying in the street for hours? Police aren’t supposed to hurry through a crime scene.) and collected the footage from the cruiser’s dashcam.

All of this evidence was organized and then it was presented to a grand jury. The prosecutors working the case laid out the evidence for the grand jury. My friend testified in front of the grand jury and answered questions about the events of that night, his state of mind when he made the decision to pull the trigger, on the content of the pre-shift briefing, and several questions about the way he was trained. Other police officers were called in to testify about the content of the pre-shift briefing. The grand jury examined the crime scene photographs and watched the dashcam video of the stop several times. The grand jurors asked a number of questions of the witnesses and of the prosecutors presenting the case relating to the laws on justifiable use of lethal force, police training, and force options available to the officer in this incident. In the end they returned a no true bill for the case.

This basic outline of events is routine for self defense claims, especially of police officers. The notion that it is somehow unheard of and improper for a prosecutor to present evidence relating to a reasonable claim of self defense to a grand jury is utter nonsense. Prosecuting attorneys in our system were never supposed to function solely as accusers impervious to the actual facts of what happened, throwing the book at whomever happens to be under their gaze. It’s absurd to live in a society where we hear the chief executive argue that he has sufficient “prosecutorial discretion” to waive basically all immigration law and yet many of the people who insist that’s proper are trying to throw a fit because the prosecutor in Ferguson presented all the evidence from the Brown shooting to a grand jury. As Andrew ably lays out in his article, creating a standard where even plainly justifiable uses of force end up going to trial would be a gross miscarriage of justice…and that’s what the people complaining about the grand jury hearing for Officer Wilson are arguing for.

The overnight legal experts aren’t. It’s yet another example of the “national dialogue” being dominated mostly by people who have no bloody clue what they are talking about.

 

Here’s another police officer who was punched while sitting in his cruiser…

He was murdered. 

You won’t hear about the murder of officer David Smith in all the silly discussion going on about what Officer Wilson should have done when he was being punched in the face by Mike Brown. So maybe inject this little tidbit into the conversation anytime you see some overnight UOF expert pontificating on the danger that Officer Wilson faced from the gentle Mr. Brown.

Again, this isn’t going to make a dent in the sort of doofus who is marching in protests but it will probably do a world of good for the sort of people who retain the mindset of a reasonable human being. Most people don’t know anything about UOF laws, requirements, or realities and all they’re getting is the prevailing media narrative on the issue which is so utterly divorced from any reality as to be sickening.

Pointing out that hey, folks, David Smith found himself being attacked in his cruiser by a much older and much smaller man and he was murdered with his own service weapon…well, it just might wake some folks up.

Reason does not prevail with Hail-Mary plays, folks. It doesn’t sound good shouted through megaphones and it doesn’t usually lend itself to catchy slogans, but it can be effective if pounded relentlessly by those who possess it.

Kudos to Legal Insurrection and View From The Porch for bringing this to my attention.

How ignorance is driving the #Ferguson discussion

Here is a tweet:

Just in case that tweet gets deleted, here’s it copy/pastad in all its lulz:

so did Wilson shoot while running? He says he looked down in his sights, which indicates he’s standing still. But when did he stop running?

Our readers who are shooters will probably have the same reaction to that tweet as I did, which is basically “lolwut?” But that’s because when it comes to using guns, whether for competition or self-defense, we actually know what we’re talking about. You know, and I know, that it’s actually pretty easy to use your sights while moving, and even easier to use them while “backpedaling furiously” as Officer Wilson described himself.

That is a pretty great example of how ignorance is driving the Ferguson discussion. What you’re seeing are people who don’t understand use of force, people who don’t understand firearms offering their unqualified opinions on what appears to be a pretty clear cut shooting, when you actually look at the evidence. That’s a key point here – the actual evidence. The autopsy of Michael Brown, for example. An excellent piece of evidence, that is conveniently ignored. Let’s take a look at that, shall we? The WaPo has a pretty good breakdown of the autopsy, which shows a few important things. First, Brown was not shot in the back. All of the rounds that hit him were from the front. Secondly, none of the rounds that hit him except for the final head shot would have been immediately fatal. We’re all familiar with stories of determined attackers taking multiple GSW to non-critical locations and continuing to fight, and an examination of the shot placement on Brown is absolutely consistent with Officer Wilson’s testimony of Brown charging him. The shots to the arm would have been painful, but not disabling. The shot to the neck and chest might have eventually stopped the fight from blood loss, but the only “shut him down” shot was to the head.

The third item from the autopsy is perhaps the most important: the shot to his hand was a contact shot, which combined with Brown’s blood in the vehicle corroborates Wilson’s testimony that they struggled for his gun until Wilson was able to shoot him off it. That’s important, because after that moment, all of Wilson’s actions need to perceived in the light that Brown had just committed multiple, serious felonies.

The next thing we want to look at is the use of force continuum. I’ve seen on the internet a lot of people questioning why Wilson didn’t use his pepper spray or mace, because he was “just getting punched in the face.” Use of force isn’t a ladder that you have to climb, touching every rung before you reach the final “Deadly Force” tier. An officer, or a private citizen needs to be able to articulate that at the moment they chose to use deadly force, they genuinely believed they were in danger of death or grievous bodily harm. We have discussed at great length the danger of getting punched, and in the case of Officer Wilson, he was being punched in the head by a physically larger attacker, and wasn’t in a position to fight back, because he was sitting in the driver’s seat of his vehicle. Using pepper spray in that situation is risky, because the range is close enough that it may splash back on the officer. Wilson’s available options appear to be either let Brown continue to assault him, or get his gun out. He chose the latter, which resulted in the gun grab attempt by Brown.

That leads us to the final question raised by ignorant people: “Why didn’t Wilson just stay in the car?” This is perhaps the dumbest question, because we all need to remember that Darren Wilson was A COP. It was his job to chase badguys, and in that moment Brown was a robbery suspect who’d just assaulted a cop. Cops aren’t trained to just “sit in the car”, especially after being assaulted. That’s just…not what they do.

What we’re really dealing with here is a massive display of the Dunning-Kruger effect. A lot of people, who are smart and knowledgeable in certain areas, are offering opinions on an event that they lack the technical expertise to understand. That’s unfortunate, because by muddling the facts that we have with uninformed opinions, it only serves to create further unrest by confusing people. Here’s the tl;dr summary: if you’re not someone who studies use of force and self-defense, STFU and say in your lane.

The law isn’t the problem here

I’m typing this about an hour and a half after the announcement that the grand jury has returned no true bill for police officer Darren Wilson of the Furgeson Police Department. The district attorney for the area did a reasonably good job of laying out the facts of the case as presented to the grand jury and all the evidence shown has been made publicly available. The physical evidence and reliable testimony…testimony given by black folks who didn’t talk to the press…showed that what occurred on that day was a fight and not the random execution a bunch of liars alleged initially.

We’ve mentioned before that unarmed is not the same thing as harmless here on Gun Nuts, and so I won’t rehash ground that has already been covered in The Danger of Fists.

As stores are being looted and set on fire (with employees still in them…I fail to see how endangering the lives of somebody working a minimum wage job brings about “justice” for anybody) the various and sundry talking heads are beginning their foul work. Now that all the facts are on the table and it’s pretty clear by any reasonable standard that Mr. Brown is dead because he picked a lethal fight with a police officer over a minor instance of shoplifting (hardly the first time that has happened) the conversation is being conveniently moved away from the specifics of what transpired between Officer Wilson and Mike Brown and it’s being morphed into a conversation about some cockamamie “epidemic” of police brutality.

Specifically the complaints I’ve heard from at least one congressman and an official in the Missouri Bar Association have been that the law is the problem here. They hold that if the law can find that it’s legal for a police officer to shoot an “unarmed” black man and not be imprisoned for it, that the law is the problem and must be changed. Nevermind that the very same laws that delivered a no bill for Officer Wilson when he shot an unarmed thief with a different skin color delivered the exact same result when police officer Don Hubbard shot white firefighter Anthony Bruno in Kansas City almost a year ago under very similar circumstances. You won’t hear that discussion happen because it doesn’t fit the narrative they are trying to put forward.

This should worry you as a gun owner because police use of lethal force is governed by the exact same laws and principles that non-sworn citizens have to comply with. Outside of a few very specific and pretty rare circumstances, a cop on the street has no more right or ability to pull a trigger on another human being than you do. Someone attempting to change the laws so that Officer Wilson goes to jail for the rest of his life for shooting Mike Brown is trying to attack the very basic concept of self defense and would put you in the cell next to him for defending yourself or your family. 

In the aftermath of this when thugs and criminals are looting and setting things on fire, these talking heads and their willing minions in social media land are going to try and use guilt to try and convince the public of a need to fundamentally alter one of the basic tenets of western civilization because they’re unhappy that the police officer didn’t lose the fight. The man’s career in law enforcement is over, he and his family are in hiding, and the families of all the police in Ferguson have had to be evacuated or put under guard because of worries that an angry mob will do them harm, and all because Mike Brown picked a fight with the police…but that’s not enough. It’s not “justice” unless they get their pound of flesh.

As the Zimmerman incident shows, it’s not going to stop with the police. If you hold the radical idea that you have the right to use force to defend yourself from criminal attack, you’re right up there in the line of fire with Officer Wilson.

There’s certainly a lot to dislike about the state of modern policing in America. I’ve ranted a bit about the deficiencies found in the justice system myself in this very space. What happened here, though, isn’t an example of a problem in American policing. It’s an example of what’s fundamentally wrong in American society.

The people on the airwaves in the next few days running their fetid suck about “justice” are, in reality, rooting for the bad guy. They’re going to cover it with flowery language about “justice” and appeals to a civil rights movement from the 60’s that has nothing to do with looting stores and burning buildings, but the basic underlying truth doesn’t change: They want the bad guys to win. When they spew this garbage in your direction don’t buy a word of it. See it for what it really is and push back.

The law wasn’t the problem in Ferguson that day. One can argue and debate about what factors in society led to producing a Mike Brown who thinks it’s acceptable to fight a uniformed police officer for his gun, but once he made that fateful decision what happened from that point on was reasonable and morally sound. He held all the cards that day. Every day police officers around the country interact with all kinds of people from all possible creeds without killing them or doing them serious harm.

Every now and then a police officer or an ordinary citizen is going to cross paths with a violent criminal who isn’t going to play by any reasonable rules. Violence is the only answer for those individuals. Not because we want it that way, but because they will have it no other way. I guarantee you that Officer Wilson didn’t want to be involved in that fight any more than Detective Reston wanted to end up being shot several times (including being shot in the face) by a shoplifter…but people like Jared or Officer Wilson or YOU don’t get to make those decisions. The violent criminals in this world make that decision for everyone else, and those of us who aren’t rabid sociopaths are left with the choice of fighting or dying at their hands. To paraphrase the DA at the press conference, no one should put a police officer…or anyone else for that matter…in the position to need to use lethal force to survive. Yet they have, they do, and they will. 

It would be pointless for us to fight new restrictions on the purchase and possession of firearms if we’ll sit back and allow the malevolent and the hopelessly misguided twist the laws so horribly that our firearms are rendered essentially useless as implements of self defense against violent criminals.

Don’t believe the hype. Challenge it. Fight it with fact. You won’t win over everyone, but it will help bolster those who feel enormous pressure to give in with the “justice” crowd but find that the small voice of common sense makes them uncomfortable going along with these people. The right input from you can give that small voice a megaphone.