The Indy fights fire with satire

Oleg Volk makes a reasonable argument in defense of the Castle Doctrine.

Oleg Volk makes a reasoned argument in defense of the Castle Doctrine.

First of all, if help is 20 minutes away, don’t beg for an easy death. Forestall death for 20 damn minutes, ideally by not getting into a cover-fire situation in front of a window at the top of an enclosed stair. Second of all, why do Markus Kaarma and his ilk live in a world where violence is both imminent and kind of awesome? After telling his hairdresser that he was “waiting up nights to shoot some [funky] kid,” Kaarma killed an unarmed exchange student in his garage and claimed self-defense. The penalty for burglary is death. The penalty for trespassing is death, provided you carry out the sentence in your home. Which would you rather live with: the knowledge that you killed another person, or the knowledge that you lost property out of your garage? Montana law protects people who choose the former.

It doesn’t protect them from satire, though. My friend and infinitely patient arts editor Erika Fredrickson wrote this Castle Doctrine update to beloved young-adult stories, descriptively titled “Everybody Dies.” Here’s a taste:

Climbing over the fence, Nancy looked up to see a loaded gun in her face. The force of the blast threw her to the ground and one Mary Jane shoe tumbled across the field and into a rabbit hole.

It’s only a matter of time before the Hardy Boys crawl into the wrong basement, too. I presume that people will complain about this funny, trenchant piece on the grounds that A) it makes light of a tragedy or B) it is their fantasy to shoot someone who breaks into their home. I submit that the people covered by (B) deserve no sympathy, and we should make fun of them as much as possible.

According to a statement released by his lawyer, Kaarma “felt his family was being targeted by burglars who had become more sophisticated and bolder with every new invasion.” Then he left his garage door open with his wife’s purse inside and shot a high school student.

It’s possible that Kaarma is simply lying. If we take him at his word, though, this armed man convinced himself that garage-hopping teenagers were sophisticated burglars who personally targeted him. He is dumb and/or narcissistic—the kind of person who would bait his garage and wait up nights with a gun in the hopes of killing a burglar, then realize that killing someone was the worst mistake he ever made.

So welcome to phase two, asshole. The Castle Doctrine has rightly become an object of national scrutiny and local ridicule, maybe because it put a young man in a coffin forever instead of in jail for the weekend. There’s a reason why, historically, we have not let guys like Kaarma enforce the law, even in their own homes. His actions put him in the small but vociferous group of people who would rather punish crime than prevent it.

Those people are stupid, and the Castle Doctrine protects them. On first blush, it is completely reasonable and proper: it absolves people whose homes are entered illegally of the “duty to retreat,” meaning that they can attack intruders even if it would be easy to get away from them. From a moral standpoint, that makes sense. But from a pragmatic standpoint, it is idiotic.

If a scary burglar comes into your house, run away from the burglar. Lock yourself in a room with a window and point your gun at the door, if you must. If they are unarmed, you probably won’t need to shoot them. And if they are armed, don’t get into a gun battle inside your house. The duty to retreat is a legal obligation, but it is also a tactical one. A sensible person would rather lose property than risk his life and/or kill someone.

Kaarma, on the other hand, risked his property in order to kill someone. The problem with the Castle Doctrine is that it selects for insensible people, and even encourages them to violence.

We’ve all heard some permanent adolescent say he wishes someone would break into his home, because he’d blow them away. These people are assholes. They are not useful to a decent society, at least insofar as they might determine the lives and deaths of others. The Castle Doctrine invests them with that authority. In theory it’s for people who want to live in peace, but in practice it’s for people who want to live at war.

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  1. I have a gun, and I also had an attempted break in while I was home at about 2:45 a.m. a year and a half ago. Single woman at the time, alone with my thoughts and about 400 bullets. Did I lock and load and go all hooyah? There was the gun, and there was me, locked in my bedroom, calling the cops and prepared to jump off my second floor balcony. The people who just want to shoot someone are indeed dicks. While I feel safer having a gun in my house, I’d also rather let the cops deal with things and get my ass out of there than stick around just so I could shoot a hole in some idiot.

  2. Since you covered most of the important issues, Dan, I’ll just point out there might be deterrent effects. If there is a culture of petty theft so common it has a name, garage hopping, I think the potential to face consequences greater than jail will interfere with it. Castle Doctrine could be a decent policy stemming from dumb reasons. It’s certainly the case that the war on drugs is a dumb policy for the right reasons.

  3. You’re suggesting that a good policy for deterring petty crime is the chance that you might get shot in the head? We could just institutionalize that and have judges roll some dice to see if a high schooler who stole something gets a slap on the wrist, gets his hands chopped off, or is executed. Good deterrent policy?

  4. Close, I’m suggesting that Dan did not consider the deterrent effects. Why would I point this out? Dan was speculating about the rationale behind a public policy decision. Criteria for evaluating public policy consider its public effects.

    Your suggestion of using dice to decide could be effective at deterring crime, but it would be bad public policy because it would undermine the legitimacy of government.

    There are many perspectives to take on issues, and Dan frequently adopts one that makes claims about effective public policy while being focused on individuals, which is fine, but no longer about effective public policy.

  5. I’m not with you on how the Castle Doctrine could be a “decent” policy because a person has a chance of getting his head blown off for a petty crime and so it deters that type of crime. The “public effects” of policy include not just the narrow consequences for certain behaviors, but whether people want to, say, live a society where its normal enough to kill people for petty theft for that to be a deterrent. Your argument comes across as coy — I don’t think you really believe the efficacy of killing people for petty theft as a deterrent is really a good policy. Or that randomly instituting the death penalty for various crimes in the legal system is a bad idea just because of its problems with state legitimacy. But if you do, either because you think that good policy can be made without considering broader ethical/public life issues or because you think they are satisfied by that policy, you can correct me.

  6. No, you have correctly described my stance. I don’t think the achievable deterrent effect is at all worth the costs. The only aspect you need to be corrected on is that I’m making an argument. I am not. I literally wanted to “point out” that a piece of Dan’s analysis is missing.

    It is missing considerations for the policy’s societal impacts. Because Dan is making claims about a policy’s effectiveness by pointing out that its beneficiaries are assholes or crazy, my brain is frustrated, so I’m pointing out that the correct line of reasoning would be whether the policy is achieving it’s intended goal through the intended mechanism. If it is not, you can call it dumb public policy. But until then, he should limit his critique to The People and lawmakers who create the policy for being stupid. The policy itself shouldn’t be the focus of that critique.

    I am making an argument, but it’s about Dan’s thinking, not the Castle Doctrine as policy.

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