“Community rallies behind homeowner arrested for shooting at burglar”
I posted about this story over the weekend, and there seemed to be something of a split among commenters on the issue. The larger point of my post then — because all the specifics of the incident itself hadn’t yet been made available — was that the kinds of laws that prosecute those defending their property, whether they seem on some level to be a good idea or not, condition us to hand over property and liberty to a government apparatus that, by mere force of legislative and regulatory momentum, will one day make criminals of us all, if it hasn’t already done so.
And we will have been taught to capitulate.
Today, however, we have more information on the logistics and the event sequence of the Utah robbery and the homeowner’s fired shots, so I’d like to revisit the specific story using the new facts:
Residents in a northern Utah city are coming to the defense of a man who was arrested and faces charges for shooting at burglars as they drove away from his property.
Layton police arrested Clare Niederhauser, 64, last week after he fired one shot at a car and another at a fleeing burglar, said Layton Police Lt. Shawn Horton. He was arrested on suspicion of two counts of reckless endangerment.
The shots were unlawful because the burglar had dropped a crowbar and was fleeing the property, said Horton, who added that the shots could have endangered somebody’s life.
“There is a responsibility of owning a gun: you need to know when you can lawfully use your weapon,” Horton said. “You’re not authorized to shoot a firearm at a car just because you don’t want it to get away, or to scare them, or disable a tire.”
Layton police said they also have arrested the man suspected of burglarizing the house, Robert Santos Cruz, 47. Investigators are searching for a woman who drove the car that was leaving the driveway when Niederhauser shot at it.
Niederhauser, a concealed weapons permit holder who used a .357 caliber handgun, didn’t immediately return phone messages from The Associated Press. He told detectives that he aimed to shoot the tire of a car leaving the driveway and later to scare Santos Cruz as he ran away. Niederhauser came home to find a car in his driveway and Santos Cruz leaving his house holding a crowbar, Horton said.
Niederhauser’s supporters said he is being unfairly punished for protecting his home. They said the arrest sets a precedence that homeowners can’t protect themselves and have launched a blog urging people to call police to complain and contribute to a legal aid fund.
The blog supporting Niederhauser says at the top, “Support Clare Niederhauser. A good man did the right thing.”
“He tried to act in a way that is responsible and compassionate and keep his head about him,” said Loran Hubbard, 53, of Layton. “We have the right to defend ourselves when we are confronted with a lethal weapon. If a big crowbar isn’t a lethal weapon, I haven’t seen one.”
There had been two other burglaries in the neighborhood in the past three months that had Niederhauser on high alert, said neighbor Teuvo Jones. The shot he fired at Santos Cruz was a warning shot near a hollow, Jones said.
“You would have to have all the laws of physics changed to make that a danger to anyone,” said Jones, basing his assessment on Niederhauser’s account. “It was far from reckless.”
Clark Aposhian, a firearms instructor and chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, has been following the case closely and believes the arrest was appropriate.
“I can understand the guy getting caught up in the moment, but he’s got some explaining to do,” said Aposhian. “It’s not that he was shooting at the person necessarily, but the reckless endangerment is because he fired his gun when the rounds could have gun anywhere.”
It’s that last bit that drives me to distraction. Because it’s a one-size-fits-all bromide — and worse, it appears not to be true in anything other than the abstract. That is, while it may be true in theory, it wasn’t true in this case, and so punishment here is akin to the kind of zero-tolerance policy that seeks to turn 7-year-olds throwing imaginary grenades at evil in order to save the world into stigmatized offenders of some vague “anti-violence” agenda.
As I noted when I first wrote about this, I wasn’t willing to concede that Niederhauser wasn’t an experienced or solicitous permit holder and seasoned firearms user. Meaning, I refused to jump to the conclusion that he acted without first being certain of his environment and having assessed the risk of unintended harm to those other than the criminals he saw leaving his property. Because to adopt that assumption was to accept the premise that would eventually and ultimately justify what may be either a bad law, or in this case, one that is being misapplied.
If it is true that Niederhauser fired his warning shot into a hollow, and aimed his other shot at a car tire, then the only things he put in danger were some dirt and leaves, and (potentially) a car tire and a fleeing criminal (and really no moreso any potential unintended ricochet damage than the kind of unintentional overpenetration damage that can happen in any legally justified shooting).
So, to return to the theme of my first post on this story and expand on it a bit, it troubles me that firearms instructors are becoming so conditioned to ostentatiously avow their commitment to what we’re all being told is proper gun safety that they are themselves becoming useful idiots in the slow creep toward severely restricting firearm ownership and usage — even as I’m quite certain that they believe, and honestly so, that they are helping the cause of the Second Amendment by taking a hard line on use of force.
This is meant to show them responsible, and as they represent the gun culture in some ways, they believe it buys them some measure of grace from a hostile anti-gun contingent, be they in the media or in government or part of some activist organization.
Which never works.
I believe Darleen, in the comments to the original post, had it right: jury nullification is how you combat this kind of legal absolutism. Let the government know that the citizens are unwilling to punish those acting to defend themselves and their property just because in the abstract we’re to place safety above private property rights — or, if you prefer I go provocative, security over the very foundation of liberty.
(h/t Terry H)