The video is clear. He pulled out his gun after being attacked. That’s why we must put ourselves in his shoes before condemning his actions.
He was armed to protect himself and others. He only used his gun because he was under siege in a high-crime area in a state known for the high percentage of people who carry guns. He was in the middle of chaos, not knowing from where the next blow would come.
Had he not been armed, he’d be dead, beaten bloody on a concrete sidewalk under the glare of lamp posts and moonlight just a few dozen feet from the majestic Atlantic Ocean. Or at least that’s what he was thinking while being pummeled. His fear was justified. How would you have responded?
If I was representing that 17-year-old, that’s the defense I’d use. He is featured in a viral video, captured by Facebook Live, about a shooting in one of the most popular tourist hangouts in one of the nation’s most popular tourist destinations, Myrtle Beach. (It shouldn’t go unnoted that legislators in the state – which is routinely near the top of gun death rate lists – spent the last session trying to make it easier for people to carry guns openly and concealed without a permit or training.)
He has been arrested; formal charges are expected after he’s released from the hospital. He was shot by a security guard. During the trial, I’d encourage him to take the witness stand and say – as many times as the judge would allow – that he was literally fighting for his life and was scared out of his mind, that he had no other choice.
“Your honor, they were trying to kill me,” I’d tell him to say as passionately and with as many tears as possible.
That defense has worked well in recent years. George Zimmerman could legally kill 17-year-old Trayvon Martin because of the concept of “stand your ground,” which has become the basis for laws in several states. His acquittal means a man can create a dangerous situation then cite that dangerous situation as the reason for killing someone.
It has worked particularly well for police officers, so well that they are hardly ever arrested or charged, let alone convicted, even when they kill an unarmed man after wrongly assuming the man was a threat. It worked in Minnesota, where Officer Jeronomi Yanez was found not guilty in the killing of Philando Castile even though Castile had calmly told Yanez he was (legally) armed.
The message is so strong – that guns are the answers – Second Amendment purists often call for more guns. Republican congressmen were targeted for assassination during a baseball practice; one of them nearly died. A colleague rushed back to Washington to push for legislation allowing congressmen to carry guns. Can you imagine an irate congressman standing his ground on the Senate floor by shooting a member of the opposite party who got too close during a heated debate? It couldn’t happen? Just a few weeks ago, a man body slammed a reporter for too persistently asking a question one day, and the next voters sent him to Congress.
That message is influencing young men who have decided to acquire guns, legally and not, to protect themselves. When they rashly use that life-sucking weapon, we are quick to condemn them, even though they are doing what they’ve been taught, shoot first and ask questions later during difficult, split-second, high-stress situations.
But they haven’t gotten the unspoken part of the message, that that’s an acceptable defense only for people who kill them, not when they kill.