In Defense of Self Defense

There’s a lot of noise being made about Stand Your Ground laws owing to the mistaken belief that they legalize Wild West behavior. Florida’s law is not unusual, as more states have Stand Your Ground laws than don’t. 26 states have them, in fact. 19 more have Castle laws, as in “a man’s home is his castle”, more popularly known as “Make My Day” laws, a term that came into vogue in my home state when Colorado passed its Castle law in 1985.

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What Stand Your Ground does is to remove the requirement that one must attempt flight before acting in self defense. That’s why I’m in favor of it. Out in the really world where criminals find their victims, flight is rarely an option. That’s why every women’s self defense course stresses that the very best defense is to be aware of your surroundings and avoid places where crimes can be concealed and from which flight is impossible. The bad guys don’t want you to have the option to escape because it foils their plans if you do, and they set things up so you can’t. But there’s more to it than that. I love telling stories, so here’s one to illustrate:

Back in 1990 or so, a buddy of mine went to the ATM at the Home Savings across the street from Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, deep in the heart of white bread suburbia. (When I say “white bread suburbia” I don’t mean a predominately paleface community. I mean generic, dull, uninspiring, and so on. White bread.) He pulled $200 from the ATM and turned to find himself faced, at a respectable but still uncomfortable distance, by five gangsters from South Central LA. South Central was just 25 miles away, but for all we knew of it in white bread Orange County it might as well have been on Jupiter. They demonstrated their handguns and informed him that they’d not hurt him if he just handed the money over, so he did. He held the cash out at arm’s length and one of the gangsters stepped forward and retrieved it at arm’s length. My buddy didn’t recognize it as such, but what they were doing was demonstrating to him that they meant it when they said they weren’t going to hurt him if he cooperated. That should have been the end of the encounter.

As they returned to their car and he to his truck, my buddy got about 30 feet from them and, unable to contain his fear any longer, broke into a run toward his truck. They shot him twice, once in the ass and once in the shoulder, with the shoulder hit being relatively superficial. The bullet in the ass dropped him, and the gangsters split.

Just now all of my white bread suburbanite readers are wondering why they shot him. They’d promised they wouldn’t shoot him if he cooperated, he did cooperate, they had the money, and the encounter was over. Right?

Wrong. They shot him because he ran toward his vehicle. In South Central when someone you’ve just been in or intend to get into an altercation with runs to his vehicle he’s going for a gun. So in their eyes, his flight was a threatening action and they acted in self defense. (He survived, by the way. He had a limp for a good while afterward.)

That’s one of the reasons why flight can be one’s worst option in an encounter with criminals. Understandable? Sure. No one wants to hang around to see what happens next. It’s understandable but not always wise. Any law that dictates that your right to self defense is predicated upon a failed attempt or clear inability to flee is bullshit for this reason alone.

Another story because I loves me some story tellin’. It’s one I mentioned in my last post.

I was walking alone down Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood late one fine Saturday night, going from The Whisky A-Go-Go to where my car was parked near Carney’s where I often went for “probably the best hot dogs and hamburgers in the world”. A very scary looking gentleman came from a side street and informed me he was selling Girl Scout cookies. I laughed right out loud at that, it being so original and entertaining. I knew he was a mugger (AKA strong arm robber), of course. I backed up a step while he explained that he really wasn’t selling Girl Scout cookies and all he wanted was five dollars. Just five bucks, and he was going to get it one way or another so I ought to just hand it over so we could both go our own ways.

If you’re a white bread suburbanite, you’re thinking that’s pretty cheap and I ought to just give the dude five bucks and be on my merry way. That’s exactly what most white bread suburbanites think, and that’s what this guy was counting on me thinking, too. I might have been a white bread suburbanite at that time, but I wasn’t a stupid one. πŸ˜€

There are two ways muggers work. The first is that they just ambush you before you even know they’re there, but that is a really hard scenario to set up so isn’t all that common. Usually they’re working in places where ambushes aren’t so easy, so they just approach their victims directly, or wait for their victims to approach them. Then they set you up: Hey man, got… a smoke, a light, the time, spare change, directions to the 7-11 that’s supposed to be around here, something like that. The goal is to occupy your hands and avert your gaze. With one or both hands occupied and you not looking directly at them, they’ve got a great advantage in the attack that’s coming. They want you on the ground, at least stunned and frightened, unconscious if need be (though some prefer you to be unconscious for their own safety), so they can take your cash and anything else of value or interest that you’ve got. That’s why the Girl Scout cookie man told me that all he wanted was five dollars — so I’d reach for my money to occupy my hands, and look at it to avert my gaze. He’d have been on me the instant I put my hand into my pocket. Guys like that, they are going to hurt you. And if that boot to the head intended to knock you out instead kills you, well, tough shit.

So I didn’t play. When I stepped back I’d turned my body so I was not standing square on to him, and from there I assumed all of a fighting stance except to fully raise my arms. There was enough separation between us that I’d have plenty of time to react if he twitched in my direction. I told him he’d have to earn whatever he took from me, and he obviously hadn’t expected that. He said, more statement than question, “You’re serious, aren’t you?”. I said something indicating that I was both serious and impatient, and he figured he was more interested in muggings than street fights. “It’s cool man” was all he said, turning his palms upward as he turned to walk away. I waited until he was 50 feet or so down the side street and quickly walked my heathen ass down to Carney’s for something to eat. I was too exhausted from the adrenaline rush to drive safely.

I could have run away, but I’d have got only as far as the next side street. I can’t prove that he had an accomplice there, but the fact that he didn’t rush me when I turned by body as I stepped back, which could have been taken as an indication of intent to run, leads me to believe he wasn’t concerned about an attempted escape. It’s a common strategy: If the target turns to run, the accomplice just trips him as he passes.

So, again, fleeing would have been the worst response. Chances are that Mr. Girl Scout Cookie was a much faster runner anyway and would have ground half of my face off on the pavement when he landed on top of me as we went down at a dead run.

When I was young I could do those kinds of things. I was strong and fast, had great stamina, very fast reflexes, and martial arts training. Now that I’m old, I don’t try to fool myself that I’m not. I’m not that young man that I used to be. Life is non-threatening here in Dinkytown, but when we go elsewhere I go armed. I avoid bad situations, sketchy looking people, and all of that, but I will not risk that a mistake, a miscalculation, or a random encounter will get Amethyst or me dead.

Speaking of which: Far, far more often than not, showing an aggressive antagonist that there’s a gun involved ends the encounter immediately. One guy said to me, “That fucking gun doesn’t scare me! You could have ten fucking guns it wouldn’t scare me!”. He still didn’t think it wise to cross the point of no return, though, so he went away under his own power. It’s been said, though by people with agendas, that firearms are used successfully in self defense without being fired something like a couple million times a year in the US. I don’t know how true that two million number is, but it seems plausible that it’s a very large number nevertheless. Most folks who scare someone away by waving a gun don’t call the pigs afterward, so there’s no way to get an accurate number.

For several months, as a teenager, I worked at a fast food joint right in the heart of the FxTroop (pronounced as F Troop) barrio. We got robbed pretty regularly, and didn’t ever call the pigs until after the robbers left. The pigs always showed up playing SWAT team games, surrounding the joint with their weapons and spotlights pointed in at us, all that stuff. That’s precisely why we didn’t hit the silent alarm while the robbers were still thereΒ β€” the nervous macho ass pigs would have killed us. We just gave the money up, no worries, as long as the robbers didn’t try to come over the counter or harm or grab at an employee. Then we’d call the non-emergency number. BUT, if the robbers came over the counter or grabbed at an employee, my friend who was the manager put his .38 in their faces and started counting, “1… 2….”. They always left in a helluva fine hurry, even if they were armed themselves. (Frank was not Hispanic but he looked like he was of la raza so was given leeway. If I’d done that I’d have been killed the first time.)

One night when I was on my way home I stopped at a traffic signal just outside the barrioΒ β€” a dangerous place to be a pinche gringo. I’d given a co-worker a ride home, and would find out the next day that her folks were exceedingly displeased that she had so much as accepted a ride from a pinche gringo. I found out she’d left the passenger door unlocked when a cholo jumped in and flicked his switchblade open in front of my face. My switchblade was bigger (or maybe he figured I was more willing to kill him than he was to kill me) so he jumped back out again. I have no idea what he wanted. I didn’t have to use the weapon, just show it.

When I was a field engineer working in Southern California, I often had to go to factories and other facilities in unsavory neighborhoods. I met muggers, carjackers, and random tough guys of unknown intent who just couldn’t stand white people in their neighborhoods, way too often. It sucked. Obligatory video clip:

I was a victim zero times. I probably broke the law most times… the fucks I give about the law are zero when choosing whether it’s a live defendant or a dead victim I intend to become.

So, bullshit on laws that say you must first attempt flight.

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Stand Your Ground does not mean “claim you were askeert and you can kill anyone you want”. It means that if you are attacked or are clearly about to be, you are not obligated to attempt flight before taking up self defense. That’s all. SYG does not mean you are authorized to use lethal force for just any old threatΒ β€” if you use lethal force when it is not warranted, SYG won’t save your ass. Stand Your Ground means only that you are not obligated to flee.

Some vigilante types might try to use SYG to excuse their crimes, and some small number of them might even get away with it. A very small number, as the bar is not set low. How’s that go? It’s better a hundred guilty men go free than one innocent go to prison? Something like that. I believe it, too. Sending innocents to prison, or, worse, to their deaths, is absolutely unacceptable. We do it all the time.Β 

If all you know is white bread suburbia, fine. I’m very sincerely happy for you. I wish all Americans could know that kind of security. But if that’s all you know you cannot fully appreciate the reasons for Stand Your Ground laws. So let’s you and I not have that discussion until after you’ve gone out and somehow eliminated all of the violent crime, including that done by rabid tasmanian pig devils. Then laws securing one’s right to self defense won’t be necessary to keep innocents out of prison, and I’ll not mind their repeal. Until then? I’m going armed, and if forced to choose I’ll be the live defendant rather than the dead victim.

Colorado (where I live), by the way, does not have a Stand Your Ground law. If it happens, I could go to prison for defending myself. How nice.

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30 thoughts on “In Defense of Self Defense

  1. grannyandthebaldguy

    I do not know what Washington State has but I do know this little town is dieing, and as businesses board up and leave, the more homeless junkies move in. I have a stun gun and know how to use it.

    Reply
    1. happierheathen Post author

      Oops… I meant to reply to you and ended up talking to myself. If you’re seeing this from somewhere not my blog, my response is over yonder on my blog. Sometimes I’m a mite doltish.

      Reply
  2. happierheathen Post author

    At present, Washington has a “No Duty To Retreat” law, which is essentially just another name for Stand Your Ground. As I understand it, it’s not so clearly written as similar laws in other states so there’s some grey area.

    I had a stun gun once, don’t know what ever happened to it. I liked that it was less lethal than a firearm and less likely to get me imprisoned. But then I had a dust-up with four fine young men of the Crow Village gang when I wasn’t carrying the thing anyway, and it wouldn’t have done me any good if I’d had it. They’d have used the darn thing on me. I won the hand-to-hand first round even though they cheated by using a (stinking heavy!) 2×6 board, but the second round was demolition derby and I’d foolishly brought a motorcycle so I lost that one. That was what sold me on the idea of more efficient tools. πŸ™‚

    You probably don’t have violent Hispanic gangs around your neck of the woods, though, huh?

    Reply
    1. promisesunshine

      no duty to retreat? that’s a stupid name for a law. i’m guessing the castle law came about from dumb ass robbers suing homeowners for injuries sustained during their b/e “employment”. which is easily the stupidest thing i’ve ever heard.
      thanks for the perspective of “stand your ground”, makes a lot more sense to the white bread over here now.

      Reply
      1. happierheathen Post author

        πŸ™‚ I prefer “no duty to retreat” because “stand your ground” sounds aggressive and as if it might promote violent confrontation and vigilantism. Of course those laws don’t actually do that, but the most common misconception I’m seeing lately is the belief that they do.

        Reply
  3. distractedbyzombies

    no google results on rabid tasmanian pig devils, but that sounds like something you’d probably be allowed to shoot under any circumstances. wow, this entry is incredibly sobering. I guess I just delude myself into thinking I’m safe most of the time. I can’t own a firearm because I wasn’t raised with gun safety or good sense, and I’ve got willful, uncontrolled kids who’d get a hold of it one way or another. I’m glad you’ve been able to successfully defend that sweet heathen brain from boots and boards all these years.

    Reply
    1. happierheathen Post author

      There was a series of underground newsletters in the 60’s in which out of control cops were referred to as tasmanian pigs. But according to some slang dictionaries that now means “an unattractive woman”, so I improvised.

      πŸ™‚ Boots, boards, bumpers, bullets… lotsa B words in the list. I oughta run with that and write an alliterative verse. I’m pretty glad to have kept my head physically intact, too. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  4. ordinarybutloud

    technically where i am “stand your ground” would be redundant, because self-defense includes the concept that you have no duty to retreat in the situations you describe. I am not versed in colorado state law but i am willing to bet that if retreat is impossible and you don’t retreat but you are acting in self-defense you would not be convicted. you might, however, be indicted, and sometimes that can be just as bad…though in “stand your ground” states you’ll be indicted anyway so really it all comes to the same thing. often in the law people are for or against new laws that just repeat old laws. for example, some of my friends recently complained because we don’t have a “no texting while driving” law. that’s true, in a way, but in a way it’s not true. if you’re texting and driving and you: swerve, speed, hit someone, fail to signal, travel below the minimum speed limit, or do anything else to endanger yourself or others, you can be stopped and ticketed. so why do we also need a “no texting while driving law?” so you can get a ticket if an officer sees you texting and nothing else is happening. But really, it’s so an officer can pull you over if he suspects you’re texting, or says he does, so he can search your car, etcetera.

    Reply
    1. distractedbyzombies

      Exactly! And I hadn’t even thought about the search part. Besides, I don’t think it’s fair. Dialing a cellphone can be dangerous, too, but not so much if you’re careful. If I carefully type ‘ok’ and hit send, why is that a crime, just because others are irresponsible and unsafe?

      Reply
      1. ordinarybutloud

        welllll………let me just say that I in NO WAY advocate driving while texting………hahahahahaha. I text at stop lights sometimes. I try to hide my phone completely when I drive, however, because I have two, young male teens in the car with me most of the time and I know for a FACT they won’t be able to type and drive or talk and drive without killing themselves or others. I have to set an example of no phone use in the car. It’s why I’ve stopped drinking and driving too. Just kidding. But really. It’s why I am very strict about having one drink, pointing out that it was one drink, waiting an hour or two and drinking a lot of water, and THEN driving us home if the kids are with me.

        Reply
    2. happierheathen Post author

      I’d probably get away with self defense, but who wants to put his or her fate in the hands of jurists who tend to be fully uninformed in the first place? (Didja catch that Zimmerman jurist who said something to the press about applying the judge’s instructions and letters of the law?) With an explicit right to self defense there’s a better chance, however minimal it might be, that it’ll end at the prosecutor’s office rather than the courtroom.

      Good on ya for setting a sound example for the childrens. I’m that guy who figures he’s every bit as incapable of safely operating a vehicle and a cell phone at the same time as is everyone else on the road. Not the ones you ask, but the ones you see. πŸ˜‰

      “So he can search your car”. If you don’t give a pig probable cause or consent, he needs a warrant for anything more than frisking areas within occupant reach for weapons. And that requires reasonable suspicion, which is why my registration and insurance card are in a holder on my visor. There’s no reasonable suspicion that the black flashlight in the glovebox is a gun if the glovebox is never opened. I’m going to do everything I can to prevent reasonable suspicion because it can escalate to probable cause over very innocuous observations or even plausible fabrications.

      Reply
      1. ordinarybutloud

        Yes. πŸ˜‰ this is where I mention I’m a defense lawyer and have been for 20 years. I tend to assume people know that about me…sorry!! In my part of the world the rules in re: searching autos are interpreted much more loosely and the Supremes don’t appear to be eager to stop it.

        Reply
        1. happierheathen Post author

          Oh, I knew that alright and didn’t mean to imply that I was challenging your knowledge and/or qualifications. Not at all! πŸ™‚ I’m just going with the SCOTUS’ automobile exception to the 4th, which still requires probable cause for a warrantless search. For now.

          Reply
          1. ordinarybutloud

            Oh good, whew, I’m glad you knew because otherwise it’s awkward and I feel bad disagreeing with people. Okay, so not really, in re: probable cause for warrantless search of automobiles. Car exceptions to the 4th include: “incident to arrest,” “inventory,” “probable cause,” and the ubiquitous (where I’m from) “officer safety.” Also, often it goes down like this: I pulled him over for failing to maintain a single lane…failing to maintain a single lane is an arrestable offense…because it’s an arrestable offense I could search his “wingspan,” which included the console….I saw a packet commonly used for carrying drugs/big wad of cash/[insert random thing you can twist into probable cause]…BOOM! I searched the whole car.

            But were you going to arrest him for the traffic violation? Well, no. Well, maybe. But I had to cuff him for officer safety while I figured out whether I was going to arrest him. I had to detain him on reasonable suspicion, and so I did a search incident to arrest.

            Courts: UPHELD!!

            Reply
            1. happierheathen Post author

              Ohs noes, longhand for profile stop. πŸ™‚

              It kinda seems like we’re in agreement here. Mister Pigstrosity did a permissible reasonable suspicion frisk and in the course of it found probable cause. That’s where I was going with the whole thing. I probably should have qualified my comment as being more for the benefit of people who don’t have a lot of experience with police encounters, rather than directed at you. You know these things already.

              I’ve been profile stopped, er, uh, pulled over for failure to maintain proper lane position several times because I was just too darn stubborn to scrape off the Hang Loose window sticker I had in the back window of my Cherokee. I never consented to a field sobriety test, never consented to a vehicle search, never answered any questions I didn’t have to answer, and never experienced a probable cause search, an arrest for drug/alcohol testing, or even a citation. I didn’t give them reasonable suspicion or probable cause. πŸ™‚

              I finally gave up the principle of the matter and scraped that sticker off, and have not been profile stopped ever since.

              Reply
              1. ordinarybutloud

                Huh, ur lucky they played by the rules. I was searched once after a “you don’t belong here, little lady” stop. Hahahaha. Yes, we agree.

                Reply
                    1. happierheathen Post author

                      That’ll getcha every time. It’s about 98% of probable cause to drive straight through such a neighborhood with the windows rolled up and catching all of the traffic signals green. If you’re in a nice car there’s a plausible fiction at the ready because pigstrosities get all turgid at the prospect of a civil asset forfeiture and can’t wait to get inside that car.

                      Land of the free, home of the brave! πŸ˜€

          2. ordinarybutloud

            Also, thank you for not saying something like, “what’s the difference between a lawyer and a catfish? One’s a scum-sucking…” etcetera. That first disclosure is always so awkward for me.

            Reply
  5. solberg73

    Wow, an exhaustive and exhausting tour de force and a tour through force. You certainly have the experience to back up your positions.
    the point about intention to flight as being a trigger for some is particularly new and relevant to the debate.
    OK, I made, I think, a site here last night. Can’t seem to do much familiar with it yet. Like ‘Suscribe/Follow anyone: where’s the damn button?
    I’ll figgure it out sometime… maybe/ JS

    Reply
      1. solberg73

        I am compelled to make a quick point; I have never even in a moment of ill-advised frivolity not read your posts to the end. every word is critical. ‘My use of ‘tour de force’ is as rich a compliment as I know. the implication is of a ‘covered every base’ position.
        The expression you may have confused me with was ‘tour de horse’, sarcastically said about GBS (George Bernard Somebody) and his odd tour of france long time ago.
        No, re-set your counter: many of your posts have been authentic tours de forces, and you have every reason to be proud and continue in that stream/ JS

        Reply

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