Using a gun in self-defense, even if legal, may result in a civil suit

(Saturday, Aug. 6: the discussion continues.)

I’ve moved to this entry a discussion that began in the post on the rampaging black mob at the Wisconsin State Fair. In a disturbing comment Mark A. argues that even if you live in a city, like Philadelphia, that allows gun ownership and concealed carry, if that city is heavily black, like Philadelphia, using a firearm to defend yourself may be prohibitively costly to yourself, because of the likelihood of your having to face a civil suit with a black jury. Some other commenters strongly disagree with Mark’s position.

D. in Seattle writes:

Regarding this and all similar prior instances of flash mobs you wrote about, I wonder if there’s a negative correlation between states and localities where flash mobs happen and where there are concealed carry laws. I don’t have enough data to perform this kind of analysis, and maybe there’s nothing to it. But if there is no correlation, I am a bit surprised nobody has responded to violence with violence already. I am not wishing it, just making an observation that the actual and intended victims are still like frogs put in cold water.

Mark A. writes:

Responding to D. in Seattle:

Actually, Philadelphia has extremely liberal concealed carry laws. You can get a permit in just a couple of weeks. You fill out a form and must take a few safety courses at a gun range. Gun stores are still operating in the city, and for those without a criminal record, a handgun can be purchased in 15 minutes. However, I’m afraid I disagree with the right-wing enthusiasm for concealed carry laws as a solution to black violence. It’s so much more complicated than this. The word civilization originally meant to live in a city, amongst the “civilized” as opposed to living in rural areas amongst the highwaymen and other criminals. The issue I take with concealed carry laws is that it is merely a Charles Bronson / Clint Eastwood fantasy that ignores the true problem, which is the breakdown of civilization and the Negro inability to live in a civilized society.

Moreover, concealed carry advocates ignore modern tort law. If your life is threatened in Philadelphia and you shoot the perpetrator, you may not get indicted by the local prosecutor. True. But the story doesn’t end there. You WILL be sued in civil court and you WILL lose your shirt. The jury will be 100 percent black, largely illiterate, and thirsty for payback. In addition, they will get your address from the court and the victims friends will come to kill you. (As one concealed carrier and gun store owner told me, “If you shoot somebody here, you better get the hell out of this town.”)

In conclusion, any white victim of these flash mobs who responded with deadly force would likely find his life ruined after the fact. This is the sick, twisted reality of our society.

Ferg writes:

Mark A. is unfortunately right about this. I have permits from two states and used to have one from a third. I have undergone training for all of these permits with considerable classroom discussion devoted to the aftermath of a defensive shooting. The simple truth is that if a white person uses lethal force to defend himself it will almost for certain be against a nonwhite. This will be true anywhere in the U.S or indeed in the Western world. These are the unpleasant facts. You may well be prosecuted by a race baiting District Attorney (as in the Duke Lacrosse case). You will almost for certain be faced with a civil suit. You may well lose everything.

But, that does not mean it isn’t worth it. You are still alive and not in a wheel chair or confined to a hospital bed for life. You still have your sight and the use of your hands. And perhaps most important, resisting crime and anarchy are a moral imperative. What you don’t resist you encourage. If you don’t defend yourself, someone else may be killed as a result. You do not have a right to make a separate peace with terrorism. We all have a duty as citizens to defend civilized society. It isn’t easy.

Brad C. writes:

Mark A. is dead wrong when he says:

“Moreover, concealed carry advocates ignore modern tort law. If your life is threatened in Philadelphia and you shoot the perpetrator, you may not get indicted by the local prosecutor. True. But the story doesn’t end there. You WILL be sued in civil court and you WILL lose your shirt.”

Tort law allows self-defense as an affirmative defense. If you reasonably believe you are in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, then you may respond with deadly force. If you act appropriately and there is enough evidence, then the case will never reach a jury, black or otherwise, because you will win a motion for summary judgment. A summary judgment basically says that there is no important issue of fact that needs to be submitted to a jury because the evidence so strongly favors one party.

I think it is important for those who carry concealed to realize all of the legal ramifications of using deadly force. This includes both criminal and civil liability. But it is not true that “you WILL lose your shirt” in a civil suit if you use deadly force.

Of course, everyone needs to know the law of their specific jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions say you have a duty to retreat, some don’t. Some say you have a duty to retreat but not in your home, etc. But our system is not so unreasonable that you are automatically civilly liable for killing someone in self-defense.

Jonathan W. writes:

I agree with Brad C. While there have certainly been some cases of civil liability when a white man has shot a black or Hispanic in self-defense (like the famous Bernard Goetz case), in general, these cases won’t make it to a jury. Our tort system is definitely out of control in some ways, but many times the abuses are held up to be the rule, not the exception that they usually are.

Stephen T. writes:

I can assure you that Pennsylvania has joined the long list of states where you are protected from civil lawsuit by perpetrators (or next of kin) for using deadly force in self-defense. The law was signed shortly after this article on June 28. In most states, you are not legally required to retreat even if you have the opportunity to do so when you are being attacked in your own premises. In many states, the Castle Doctrine, as it is generically known, includes a clause which extends to your motor vehicle if you are attacked there, too. I don’t have time to list a state-by-state breakdown of it.

Here’s a security camera video of an incident of use of deadly force for self-defense, and its consequence.

The victim and both perpetrators are white. One guy (in photos, he’s covered with tattoos head to toe) attempts to distract a driver filling up his car at a self-service gas station. Meanwhile his partner rushes in and they begin savagely beating the driver in an attempt to take his car. They pummel him down onto the floor of his car. An ill-advised course of action. He had a .45 caliber Glock within reach under the front seat. You can see the results.

This happened in Ohio, which defines your motor vehicle as private premises protected under the state’s Castle Doctrine. Thus the driver was not prosecuted for shooting the guy. Also, in Ohio you are protected from civil liability for justified use of force in self-defense, so he can’t be sued, either.

You see him drive away, alive and still in possession of his car. Better than the alternative, I’d say.

This is another reminder of how vulnerable one is at self-service gas stations where you are forced to get out of your car and stand there in the open, exposed to every wandering weirdo and/or attacker. I thought of this case when you posted the story of the woman stabbed to death at a self-serve car wash. It could have ended more like this had she been armed.

Paul K. writes:

Mark A. makes a valid point. I recently read “After You Shoot,” by Alan Korwin, a pro-gun advocate, and he outlines many of the problems that face the person who shoots someone in self-defense. Granted, in some jurisdictions, he may not even be charged. However, if he is charged—and that is often a political decision—he can expect legal bills in the range of $150,000 to $250,000, and that’s before a possible civil suit. I would call that losing my shirt.

I have a concealed-carry permit, but my primary precaution is to stay away from any public event that is likely to attract lower-class blacks.

LA replies:

Paul said: “My primary precaution is to stay away from any public event that is likely to attract lower-class blacks.” This is off-topic, but I was wondering, would liberals and mainstream conservatives consider that a racist or otherwise unacceptable statement?

August 6

Mark A. writes:

In response to Brad C.:

In theory, I completely agree with you. In practice, I disagree. Yes, I know that in many jurisdictions self-defense is an affirmative defense. But you have to litigate that! You have massive attorneys fees. You have your name in the paper of a black city stating that you killed a poor minority whose mother and seven siblings live in North Philadelphia on food stamps. Your co-workers think you’re a racist. You’re ostracized by police society. And the little punk that you killed—his crew has your name and address from the court. They are going to come after you—and the Philadelphia police aren’t going to do a darn thing about it!

Please see this article, about the not guilty verdict in the case of Temple Law student Gerald Ung shooting Edward DiDonato. Not only is Ung going to have to face a civil suit from the victim’s father (who is a big shot Center City lawyer), he WAS indicted in Philadelphia and could’ve gone to prison. He’s lucky that he is a minority who shot a rich white kid from the Main Line, or else the jury would have crucified him.

So, yes, he had an affirmative defense, but he faced a Philadelphia jury and now probably has $100,000 in legal fees.

Concealed carry is NOT the answer to our problems.

Mark P. writes:

Even Chicago does not prosecute self-defense gun cases in the home.

August 7

D. in Seattle writes:

A few points in reply to Mark A. I have no reason to doubt that, at least in some places, if you were to shoot someone in self-defense you could get in trouble because of tort law. But you should ask yourself these questions:

1. Are you going to allow yourself and your family to be victimized, regardless of the potential cost?

2. Maybe you’d have to spend $100K or $250K in legal fees to defend yourself in court against a frivolous private lawsuit, possibly more in damages if you were to lose. Most of us don’t have $250K just sitting around waiting to be wasted in court. But again, ask yourself how much is your life worth to you, or life of your spouse or kids. How much is your dignity worth?

3. Why would you want to live in a city where most of the population is hostile to you, so that you’d be at risk of losing in court if you get sued for shooting your attacker?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 05, 2011 04:08 PM | Send

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