Gavel (Courtesy photo)

Gavel (Courtesy photo)

Opinion: The foolish men claiming self-defense

It’s not just misguided teenagers carrying guns who find themselves in trouble with the law.

  • Saturday, November 27, 2021 11:11pm
  • Opinion

By Rich Moniak

A not guilty verdict “will not be a miscarriage of justice” David French wrote three days before Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of first-degree intentional homicide. “The law gives even foolish men the right to defend their lives.”

And as two other cases show, it’s not just misguided teenagers carrying guns who find themselves in trouble with the law after foolishly putting themselves in dangerous situations.

French, who is a former attorney, explained Rittenhouse wasn’t going to be judged by his decision to take on “one of the most difficult tasks in all of policing — imposing order in the face of civil unrest.” The claim of self-defense would only consider a “narrow inquiry into the events immediately preceding the shooting” and whether or not the jury believes a reasonable person would have used deadly force under the same circumstances.

After the initial confrontation Rittenhouse found himself in, he attempted to run away from the scene. The first fatal shooting occurred after he was pursued by several people, a witness fired a warning shot in the air and Joseph Rosenbaum, who was not armed, attempted to take the gun from him. After shooting Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse fled again and after another struggle for control of his gun, he shot and killed Anthony Huber.

It’s doubtful the 17-year-old was aware of his obligation under Wisconsin law to flee or retreat before using his weapon to defend himself. But the fact that he did likely contributed to the jury’s decision to acquit him.

In a Georgia case this week, three men were found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. Like Rittenhouse, Travis McMichael testified he shot Arbery for attempting to take his gun from him. But his self-defense argument, and that of his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan, were undermined in part because they’d been pursing Aubrey in their trucks. They wrongly suspected he committed a burglary in their neighborhood and were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest.

These weren’t teenagers. In fact, the elder McMichael is retired law enforcement officer who had most recently worked as investigator in a district attorney’s office.

Which brings me to another example of supposedly educated gun owners who foolishly put their own lives at risk. In widely seen video recordings of an incident in St. Louis last summer, Mark McCloskey pointed an AR-15 at Black Lives Matter protesters walking on the sidewalk in a private, gated neighborhood. At relatively close range, his wife Patricia did the same with a handgun.

Like many states, Missouri law allows homeowners to use lethal force to defend their property. However, based on the videos and police investigations, there’s no evidence anyone stepped into their yard or approached the home. It’s not known if any of the protesters were armed. But if one or more were, the scene could have turned deadly very fast if they decided to fire at the McCloskeys first.

About a month after the incident, the McCloskeys were charged with unlawful use of their weapons. Then, they were indicted by a grand jury indicted for tampering with one of the weapons after the incident. A year later, they later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault and harassment.

The foolishness by the McCloskeys is magnified by the fact that they’re both lawyers who should have understood the state’s gun and self-defense laws.

Still, as former state and federal prosecutor Val Van Brocklin wrote in the Anchorage Daily News four years ago, “Knowing the law on when you can use deadly force isn’t enough. You need to be able to apply that knowledge to unpredictable, quickly changing, stressful circumstances, make a decision, and act (or not). To do this effectively requires training.”

Unfortunately, such training isn’t a requirement of gun ownership.

As the guilty verdict in Georgia made crystal clear, self-defense laws aren’t meant to protect people who abuse the right to legally own and use a gun. But the tragic truth for a country with 81 million gun owners is that Ahmaud Arbery, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber won’t be the last to be killed by foolish decisions like those made by the defendants in these cases.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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