BIDLACK | Gun owners, ask yourselves, ‘What does it take to make my day?’

Author: Hal Bidlack - September 14, 2018 - Updated: September 14, 2018

Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

A recent story in the Colorado Springs Gazette got me to thinking about guns again. The story is headlined, “Colorado Springs man escapes murder charge under ‘Make My Day’ exception.” It reports that a judge in the 4thJudicial District ruled that the shooter, who killed a homeless man sleeping in the shooter’s apartment complex, was protected from prosecution. The judge ruled that our state’s “Make My Day” law, which allows the use of deadly force when a resident feels his or her person or property is threatened, shielded the shooter from legal action. Other versions of these laws are called “stand your ground” and the “castle doctrine,” with variations on the details but with the same core notion.

We recently saw the disturbing video of another Florida man shooting and killing a person over a parking spot, after being pushed to the ground. After initially declining to file charges against the shooter – citing the Make My Day law – local officials did ultimately charge the shooter with manslaughter. Over two dozen states have laws similar to Florida’s, which include some fairly expansive views on when deadly force is legally protected. Colorado’s law says a citizen can “shoot and kill an intruder in self-defense if they believe the person intends to commit a crime and use physical force, ‘no matter how slight’.” And while some states continue to embrace the “duty to retreat” doctrine – that before shooting to kill, a threatened person should try to get away – our Centennial State does not.

As a former military cop and gun owner myself, I fully understand and support the right of people to defend themselves. If threatened, it is completely acceptable to use the needed force to protect oneself and one’s family. If a big, scary guy breaks into my home with the intent to kill, I’ll shoot him.

But things are rarely that clear cut.

All too often, the Make My Day cases are far less concrete and clear as some would suggest. The aforementioned case in Colorado Springs is a good example. According to the Gazette story cited above, the reason the district attorney (a Republican, and from my own personal experience, a good and honorable person) filed charges in the first place was that the shooting was well into that gray area. It seems, according to the Gazette, that the homeless person ultimately shot was not in what one might call a “home,” but rather was in a basement area in the apartment complex. The shooter noted a door ajar and armed himself with a gun and a headlamp. Upon entering the basement area, a witness reported hearing the shooter yell “get out, get out” and then begin a countdown from five to one. Upon reaching the last number, there was a scream and a gunshot. This feels, at least to me – and apparently the DA – to be quite a bit different than shooting a bad guy who broke into your bedroom.

Again, I come at this from the perspective of a military cop and a gun owner. Yet I recall that in our training, we were taught to use one “level of force” above that of that of the person we were confronting. Thus, if a suspect was unarmed, we might deploy our collapsible batons. A knife? Time for a gun. It appears that the homeless man was unarmed. To be fair, we can’t know every detail of what happened in that basement, but enough went wrong that the DA has announced he will appeal the Judge’s dismissal of charges.

Which brings us to a broader question – one that I confess to have grappled with for a long time. Again, my training in the military was that we draw our weapon only if we expect to shoot, and we only shoot to save life – ours or others.

Now I know that good people with good hearts will disagree on this, but please ask yourself, what are you willing to kill over? To protect your own life and/or the lives of others? Yes, absolutely. But what about over stuff? If you came home to see a thief running away from your front door carrying your laptop, would you shoot him? TV? Stamp collection? I’m trying to understand what you are willing to take a life over.

In my own case, I don’t think I could kill over a thing. Sure, panic and fear in a scary situation might lead me toward action, but rationally, I don’t think I could sleep too well knowing I took a life – even of a punk thief – because he had my iPad. I don’t think it would make my day.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.