You might have seen it in the news: in St. Louis, protesters broke down the gate into a gated community, intent on marching to the Mayor’s home. One couple, fearing for their safety and the safety of their house and property, stood on their porch, guns in hand.
The locale’s District Attorney charged them with brandishing guns. Their guns were confiscated. Missouri’s Attorney General stepped in, and the charges were dropped. Missouri has a “right to self-defense” law, and a “castle doctrine” law. Why was the couple charged, with those laws in place?
The couple who were charged lived in a district where the circuit attorney is a Democrat who, as is common among Democrats, is against the Second Amendment and private gun ownership. She put her interests above Missouri law.
Missouri’s Attorney General overrode the circuit attorney, and dismissed the charges, saying, “A political prosecution, such as this one, would have a chilling effect on Missourians exercising their right to self-defense. The law of Missouri is clear and must be protected.”
South Carolina has similar self-defense and castle doctrine laws. What will happen if you are in the same situation as that couple in St. Louis?
What is the Law?
South Carolina’s Attorney General is Alan Wilson. The AG’s office publishes opinions on various laws, describing how they should be applied, and how they expect that law to be enforced in South Carolina courts.
The document “2018 S.C. AG LEXIS 32”, dated April 23, 2018, concerns matters of self-defense, deadly force, castle doctrine, and more. In it, the AG Office refers to a decision by the Curry Court that “immunity is predicated on an accused demonstrating the elements of self-defense to the satisfaction of the trial court by the preponderance of the evidence.”
By law, there are four requirements to establish self-defense (paraphrasing the legal wording): (1) the defendant did nothing to provoke the attack; (2) the defendant was in danger of losing his life or being injured; (3) that a “reasonably prudent man” would likewise have believed he was in danger; (4) the defendant had no other means of avoiding the danger of losing his life or being injured (i.e., he could not retreat). The fourth element, however – the duty to retreat – is excused under South Carolina’s Castle Doctrine.
The law appears to be the same in defense of others as it would be applied for self-defense.
What does Law Enforcement Say?
Law Enforcement personnel – City Police, the County Sheriff’s Office, State Police, etc., are understandably very reluctant to give advice regarding the use of a gun. The definition of self-defense given above has plenty of gray areas and not very many hard-and-fast conditions to explain when shooting someone in self-defense is legal.
Law Enforcement’s duties are to investigate potentially illegal incidents, gather evidence, and possibly charge a person with a crime. Judgement is up to the Courts, not Law Enforcement.
How Should you Prepare?
The numbers speak for themselves: gun sales nationwide for June 2020 were up 136% compared to June 2019. The majority were first-time gun owners. The protests and riots in the news, whether we approve or not, should rightfully be a cause for concern for the safety of ourselves and our family.
Buying a gun, though not “easy”, is the easy part. Being a gun owner means being aware of the responsibilities that go with ownership, and safety is far and away at the top of that list. That especially includes the safety of children and others. As with a vehicle or a shop tool, there is no room for mistakes. Using a gun requires periodic practice at a gun range, not only to become familiar with its use and maintenance, but as a refresher to maintain your competence. Gun ownership is a right, but it is never to be taken casually.
Here They Come!
We never expected it in the Golden Strip, but here come the protesters, on your street! Recently, there were a number of protests in Mauldin. Fortunately, the organizers included Mauldin residents, who refused to allow protesting in neighborhoods. But this time, they are on your street!
What should you do?
First, of course, dial 911; call the City Police. Let them know there is a protest. Let them know how many people are involved. Let them know if the protest appears peaceful so far, or if you are seeing property damage or harassment of your neighbors. Urgently request a Police presence. Mauldin, Simpsonville, and Fountain Inn are small enough that Police can arrive in two or three minutes. The whole episode could be over quickly.
But then the worst occurs; it is not over. People are yelling and threatening. A couple of mailboxes have been knocked over. A neighbor happened to be outside, and is now screaming in fear. Someone throws a rock through a window. You hear the crash, and, like the couple in St. Louis, you decide to stand on your front porch, gun in hand. Your mailbox is pushed halfway to the ground; you do nothing. As one Law Enforcement person put it, better to deal with your insurance company about it later. Mailboxes are not included under the Castle Doctrine. Tensions are high enough; don’t make it worse.
Some of the protesters have already passed your house by. A couple are on your lawn, yelling at you. But somebody in the mob makes the worst choice of his life; he spots you, comes running off the street, across your lawn, waving a club, and yelling repeatedly that he will smash your skull. Still running, he is close enough that in the next step he will hit you. You held off – but now you fire your gun.
What will Law Enforcement Do?
About 35-40 people are killed in the U.S. by someone with a gun every day. But about 2,200 times a day, a gun is used in self-defense, saving lives. You were prepared, and being prepared, you have saved the lives of yourself and your family. What happens now?
Law Enforcement will soon be on the scene. In fact, the first thing you should do is call 911, report the shooting, and ask for immediate help.
When Law Enforcement appears, it will be some combination of City Police, County Sheriff’s Deputies, and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
You will be asked to turn over the gun. It will be taken as evidence. That is normal procedure in any incident with a gun; it does not imply whether you will be charged or not. It is simply standard procedure. Pending investigation, you will either be cleared of any crime and the gun returned, or charged with a crime.
While it may seem likely that you will not be charged with a crime, you must keep in mind that as a potential suspect, you should not answer any questions from Law Enforcement without your attorney’s advice. While we all want to be helpful to Law Enforcement, we must also consider our legal responsibility.
Volunteering information to Law Enforcement will not help you; it can only make your situation worse. Take the advice of someone in Law Enforcement: neither you nor your family should provide any information without your attorney present. Law Enforcement has its standard procedures, and they expect you to consult an attorney as a standard procedure as well.
There are a number of legal steps that will follow police investigation of the incident. Law Enforcement themselves may decide that your actions in the incident were legal; the process ends, your gun is returned. If they have any doubts, they will hand over the results of their investigation to the Prosecutor. He may decide that no crime was committed, and close the case. If so, your ordeal is over.
The Protest and Its Aftermath are Over
You did the planning and preparation, and it paid off. it was up to you to make sure that your family would be able to return to a normal, happy life, and you succeeded.
It was a harrowing situation, but your planning, training, careful thought, and careful action at a tense moment made a big difference.