Saturday, February 15, 2014

California's "Justified Homicide" Statute: Not so Different from Florida

California has had restrictive weapons carry legislation.  In general Californians cannot carry a loaded weapon in public, and concealed weapons require a permit and a showing of "good cause" such as an actual threat.  As a result the incident of gun deaths in California is significantly lower than it is in other states with fewer regulations.

Two days ago in Peruta v. San Diego  the 9th Circuit ruled that under the 2nd Am of the U.S. Constitution California cannot deny a concealed weapons permit to any person of "good moral character" who might want one.  The ruling is stayed pending possible review by the entire 9th Circuit panel of judges, so nothing much will change immediately.

Gun advocates are cheering this result.  Any upstanding citizen should be able to carry a concealed loaded weapon in public.  Sure as shootin'!  

In Florida, a jury just returned deadlocked on First Degree Murder Charges in the trial of Michael Dunn.  He shot a black teenager at a gas station.  The teenager was armed with the color of his skin and loud music, and perhaps a foul mouth.  No gun.  Of course, this follows the spectacle of the shooting of Treyvon Martin near his home by a neighborhood watch captain in an upscale Florida subdivision.  Martin was armed with the color of his skin, a hoody, and some junk food.... no gun.

So with visions of every other person walking around with a concealed and loaded weapon dancing in our heads.... here is California's version of "Stand Your Ground" legislation.  It turns out it's not so different from Florida's.

California Penal Code Section 197, first enacted in 1872, reads like something from the Wild West, which it is.   It's justifiable to kill, among other things,  to (1) prevent a felony, (2) defend your home or property, (3) defend the property of another against a felony by violence or surprise, (4) in defense of others if it looks like there might be a felony planned, (5) when necessary to make a citizen's arrest of a felon.

If it ever turns out that half the people in cars, half the people in bars, and half the people at football games are really carrying loaded concealed weapons we might have to revisit this statute.    Just sayin'.

Of course, we have plenty of people illegally packing heat now; and just because it might become legal for virtually everyone to pack a loaded handgun, this does not mean that they would.  These things are cultural.  Do gun advocates really want half the population to walk around armed at all times?  It's a different question from "Should we have the right?"  This is the flip side of the abortion debate, after all.  Pro-lifers want to control abortions like gun advocates want to control guns.  But when it comes down to it, it's not about the laws, it's about the culture.

For me, it's a good thing if our culture can keep guns out of the hands of the George Zimmermans and the Michael Dunns.  A society where substantial numbers carry concealed weapons would be a coarser, less trusting, more uptight society.

In the meantime, however, we may as well start cleaning up our statute books.  And, while we're at it, let's require substantial insurance for all damage caused by guns we own on a strict liability basis, and let's have lots of training and mental counseling paid for by high taxes on ammunition.


  1. It appears to me that the gun industry is insulated from liability charges. Is that true? Can victims of gun crimes win a case against the manufacturers?

  2. Available theories are 1) Negligence ; 2) strict products liability; or 3) some statutory remedy. Negligence is a tough sell. There is possible negligence in manufacturing the gun (i.e. it's defective), but that doesn't cover it. There is putting a dangerous instrumentality in the stream of commerce; but that's not really different than an automobile (no liability for a properly functioning car or gun); and there are no statutes that help much that I'm aware of. So I think you are right--the gun industry is pretty insulated. That's why I'm thinking insurance coupled with strict liability for any damage caused.