The Open Forum this week raised several new ethics topics I will be posting on soon, in addition to its bumper crop of Comments of the Day. The latest of these is another by Michael R., following the posting of this link.
Here is Michael R’s Comment of the Day on the justice system thread in Open Forum Ethics:
I have wondered about the ethics of citizens shooting criminals when they are legally justified. Should a citizen try at all costs to avoid shooting a criminal when legally justified or should citizens shoot and attempt to kill criminals any time it is legally justified? Sad to say, I am beginning to think the latter is preferable. I will give an example to illustrate why.
A man committed 5 home invasions in 1 day in my neighborhood about 2 years ago. During the first 4 home invasions, the residents were armed and drove him off. In the 5th, the resident held him at gunpoint for police (my neighborhood is kind of rough for home invaders). The police told the 5th homeowner he should have killed the man. You may wonder why. The criminal was convicted on all 5 counts of home invasion as well as being a felon in possession of a firearm. Justice, right? Well, he has already been released from prison. He severely beat two women while robbing them. He led police on a high speed chase in a stolen car while shooting at them. He was shot and crashed the car (doing extensive property damage). He will require extensive medical care at state expense for the rest of his life. If the homeowner had killed him, those women wouldn’t have been beaten and robbed, the car wouldn’t have been stolen, and the public wouldn’t be paying millions to take care of this criminal.
The reason the police have told several people I know that they should have shot the criminals in their homes is that they see this too often. They see a citizen shooting as the best way to keep criminals from preying on the public.
We really have two criminal justice systems. One is for a career criminal, and it is a joke. They can commit a string of serious crimes. If they happen to get caught, they might get a year or two of confinement, then released. The other is for normally law-abiding citizens. For them, committing one of any number of trivial felonies on the books can destroy their lives. Your family will be destroyed, the career you may have spent decades working for will be destroyed, etc.
I define a trivial felony as a crime that harms no one and may require an expert with a rule book to even notice. As an example of a trivial felony, my legislature is trying to pass a law that would make it a felony to possess a long-gun that has had the barrel shortened for any reason, even if that length is much longer than what is required for federal legality. For example, you inherit a shotgun from your grandfather. Unknown to you, someone at sometime shortened the barrel from 36″ to 28″ to remove the choke and fit it with interchangeable choke tubes (28″ barrels with interchangeable choke tubes are probably the longest popular barrel option on shotguns manufactured today). Even though you were unaware of this and you can legally buy a gun EXACTLY LIKE THIS, if it breaks and you take it in for service to a gunsmith, you would be facing a 20 year jail sentence (reasonable gun laws). Two identical guns, but manufactured differently. One is perfectly OK, one is a 20 year felony.
That is a trivial felony in my book. On the other hand, someone who brutally rapes an elderly woman may only get 3 years. Two completely different criminal justice systems.