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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

A hero or criminal? It all just depends

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Last week in Florida, a man looked outside of his apartment just in time to see two thugs in the process of stealing his car. The man grabbed a registered handgun and ran outside. The thieves had just pulled away but the man was able to fire one shot at the stolen vehicle. His aim was accurate and one thief was shot and killed.

Now prosecutors have charged the man with manslaughter because, according to the law, the use of force is acceptable only when there is a threat of violence.

In Kansas City this weekend, a 41-year-old woman heard the frantic cries of her sister in the other side of a duplex. She grabbed a baseball bat and went to her sister's aid. One stroke of the baseball bat proved fatal to the intruder who was attacking her sister.

These two cases are similar yet the law treats them in a radically different manner. The Kansas City woman is being hailed as a hero - which is appropriate. The intruder was naked, under the influence of powerful drugs and was more than likely to inflict substantial harm on the victim. Her actions may just send a signal to other idiots who might be so inclined to violence.

But the gentleman in Florida is not being hailed as a hero but rather as a criminal. And I'm not sure that's right. Granted, there is a distinction between a violent action and a crime against property. But I'm not at all sure that I wouldn't react in the same manner. Many others agree.

St. Louis experienced an epidemic of car thefts in the past two years though a recently-appointed task force has greatly diminished that crime in the city. But during the rash of car thefts, police were advising residents against taking any action against the thieves. And police were even provided a policy against high-speed car chases with suspected thieves.

If we send that kind of signal to those who prey on our property, the crimes will increase. If we send a get-tough signal, they will diminish. That's not just common sense - it's based on fact.

Both the woman in Kansas City and the man in Florida were justified in their actions. Unfortunately in the Florida case, the punishment does not fit the crime.

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