I feel that I must address what I believe is the #1 epidemic of incorrect thought in the gun culture: the idea that property is worth killing for and/or dying to protect. There are a lot of people over the years who I have interacted with both in person and over the internet who are one unfortunate opportunity away from making a deadly mistake in defense of their mere possessions. Let me say at the outset that I am not here to address the legality of using deadly force to protect property. Different states have different statutes that give property owners varying levels of legal justification for protecting property with deadly force. This post is not about what you as a property owner “can” do legally, but rather addresses what you as a responsible armed citizen “should” do.
As a Christian who values human life above all else, I own nothing that is worth killing someone or sacrificing my own life to protect. My purpose for owning a firearm is not defending my earthly possessions, which can always be replaced. I own a firearm to give me an efficient means of defending my life and the lives of my family members if they should ever be threatened. I hold all human life in higher regard than I do my earthly possessions. My gun exists to protect life, not stuff. When I express that conviction, I am sometimes accused of sympathizing with criminals who are killed or injured in the process of attempting to take property, but that could not be farther from the truth. I don’t need to have sympathy for the bad guys to properly value their lives above material possessions. It’s not that I believe that that a bad guy has been victimized when they get shot while trying to steal something, it’s just that I don’t believe that the gun owner is making a good decision in escalating to deadly force if property is all that is at stake. There are a lot of moral and simply rational reasons why this is a good policy for self-preservation.
When you decide to use deadly force, you are making a risk vs. benefit decision even if only subconsciously. Morals aside, if you are a practical person; you should want the benefits to outweigh the risks for your decision to be a good one. The only benefits of using deadly force to protect property are the possible retention of that property in good working order and/or avoidance of having to deal with an insurance claim if the property is insured. That’s it: you just might get to keep your stuff. However, the risks of using deadly force to defend property are numerous and severe.
First, you are putting yourself in danger of death or severe injury by instigating a confrontation, and there is no guarantee that you won’t lose the fight. If you pull a gun on someone trying to steal your truck out of your driveway, you could very likely be gunned down in your driveway next to your truck. Most people don’t think hard enough about that possibility, but there are plenty of instances where good guys even doing the right thing have lost their lives. There are no sure things when it comes to deadly force encounters and any time you pull your gun on someone even if it is justified, you are rolling the dice to a certain extent.
Second, even if you win the confrontation, you are probably going to have to deal with the legal system anyway. Even in states where you have some legal justification for using deadly force in defense of property, you are going to have to prove that justification to the police and potentially in a court of law. The finders of fact in these cases don’t always see things the way that you would hope and you don’t want to find yourself sitting in criminal court with all the legal fees and personal reputation issues that come with it over a piece of property. Ask anyone who has been to court over a gun-related issue even if they were in the right and I guarantee you they will advise against it.
Third, even if you retain your property and make it through court relatively unscathed, you are going to have to live with the fact that you took a human life in defense of a lifeless object. Killing is not at all like it is portrayed in the movies, and even the hardest, most highly trained professional killers don’t leave the battlefield mentally unscathed. Taking human life comes with mental and emotional baggage that you will have to carry with you for the rest of your life. Is that a burden you want to carry for the sake of protecting a mere piece of property?
The point is, whether you are a person of faith or not, the risks clearly outweigh the benefits when considered rationally. When that is the case, you are better off not using deadly force. The smart thing to do would be to avoid the confrontation and call the police if property is all that is at stake. You might not get your property back, but I’ll risk my truck to save my life and not vice versa, because I’m a rational human being.
The problem is that most people who express their sentiments about using deadly force to protect property aren’t considering the situation rationally, they are consumed by raw emotion. After all, we work hard to acquire our possessions in America and our property rights are the basis for a lot of our freedoms. On top of that, we have a seriously flawed justice system that all too often lets even violent offenders off with far less than they deserve only to allow them to continue victimizing good people. That makes us mad, and it ought to. But is it worth it to risk your life, your reputation, your financial resources, and your psychological well-being just to take some sort of stand against our flawed society? That’s a decision you must make ahead of time, because raw emotions in the heat of the moment often make for poor decisions. I think most people when they take a deep breath and really consider the implications will make the right decision, but there are some that are just one unfortunate chain of events away from making a serious mistake.
If you perceive that your life is in danger and you have no other option but to use deadly force because you believe someone is about to potentially kill or seriously injure you, then the benefits of potentially surviving by using deadly force to stop the threat outweigh the risks of potentially being killed. You only get one life, and you should do whatever you need to in order to defend yours and your family’s. But if property is all that is at stake, your life and the life of the thief are more valuable than the thing you wish to protect. Even if you don’t believe the part about the life of the thief, I hope you’re smart enough to believe the part about you, or you should not own a firearm. Be smart, or you might end up like this guy.