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As I See It

Last week the Tennessee Senate passed a bill protecting citizens from criminal and civil troubles if they use deadly force against someone engaged in a violent crime. The bill has a ways to go before — and if — it becomes law.

The action of the Tennessee Senate is consistent with the anti-violence backlash that has reared its head in recent times. Most notoriously, the Texas “gunslinger” law passed several years ago to allow citizens to carry unconcealed weapons in public. Closer to home, Mississippi has loosened restrictions on who may obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

The Tennessee bill allows any private citizen to use deadly force to apprehend a person who is committing a violent crime. Specifically enumerated crimes include murder, robbery, rape or carjacking. It also covers those fleeing after committing one of these crimes. The “vigilante” must be physically located on the same property where the offense took place.

The bill rewards marksmanship; you cannot be sued by the assailant, but if you miss and hit a bystander, they can sue you for damages.

Is this a good idea or a bad idea?

It’s sad that the issue is worthy of discussion at all. However, things are the way they are and so we must consider the implications of the matter.

The issue arose as a result of two recent crimes. In one incident a small businessman shot a fleeing robber after the assailant had threatened the shopkeeper’s wife with a shotgun and stolen the cash drawer. In the other incident, a bank president shot two robbers as they drove off in a stolen car moments after they had held up the bank. No criminal charges have been filed against either, but civil suits are possible.

There is general agreement that crime is at an unacceptable level in our society. If there was certainty that the Tennessee approach would substantially reduce violent crime, many would agree that it was a good idea. Will passing this legislation serve as a deterrent to crime? Since no one knows for sure, I will submit that if not a deterrent, then it certainly is not an encourager. Some believe that the mere presence, or suspected presence, of a firearm is a deterrent to crime.

There is danger in authorizing citizens to supplement law enforcement. Trained, experienced police officers have a hard time deciding when the use of deadly force is appropriate. Hesitating at the moment of truth in a violent, crisis situation will get you killed — criminals will not hesitate. Inevitably, some nervous, over-zealous vigilante is going to over-react and blast away with a .44 magnum at some water pistol toting kid. As tragic as this is, our society regularly votes that personal mobility is worth the 45,000 deaths on America’s highways each year; some highway fatalities include innocent water pistol toting kids.

Americans have always felt they had a right to defend themselves and their property. This proposed legislation really doesn’t do anything more than formalize this inherent right. Reluctantly, I must concede this type of legislation will probably do more good than harm and I’m for it.

Thought for the Moment

All people have their own living road to Heaven. Until they walk on this road, they are like drunkards who cannot tell which way is which.

— Zen saying

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal.

About Joe D. Jones

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