Ethics of Shooting People

I was traveling in Poland and we came to the small village where my co-worker was from.  We stopped at his parent’s farm where I met his parents and grandmother.  They were warm and friendly, and we had a great time.  It happened that his parents had never been further than Krakow, and they were excited because I was the first American they had ever met.  They knew a lot about us from American television programs, dubbed into Polish and broadcast on Polish stations.
Since I was a genuine American, his father thought it was a great chance to get the straight scoop about something he wondered about from the TV shows he saw.  He asked me, “When do Americans shoot people; when you see them in your yard or when they come in the house?”  I was taken back by the question, but told him with a straight face, that Americans have a long-standing tradition to not shoot until we see the whites of their eyes!   My friend was embarrassed, and told his father those were fictional TV shows and not how Americans act.
The question made me think though.  When is it Okay to shoot someone, and under what circumstances?  Most people agree that shooting someone in the back is not Kosher.  The idea being that if you shoot someone in the back, they didn’t see it coming and couldn’t defend themselves.  Personally, I don’t see the logic in that.  Even if you saw it coming, how many people are faster than a speeding bullet?  I know of only one person, and bullets don’t work on him anyway.
From a practical standpoint, you really can’t wait until you see the whites of their eyes, because if they are that close, they could overpower you.
What about if someone is stealing from you?  If someone is running out the door with your plasma TV or your gold jewelry, don’t you have the right to shoot them then?  That’s considered unethical too, because they haven’t hurt anyone, just ripped them off.  Even low-life human life is more valuable than a TV or jewelry.
What if someone threatens you in a public place?  We don’t allow that kind of shooting either.  If you get threatened in a public place, you would have to prove that shooting them was necessary.  In our society, people would kill each other over parking spots, and while a parking spot is important, it would be difficult to prove the necessity.   The legal bills alone would be astronomical, and in the long run, paying for parking is cheaper.
Lately in the news, a young black teen was killed by an idiot vigilante block watch guy who chased him down and killed him.  There was no evidence of wrong doing by the young man.  The jerk killed someone’s son. Skin color is not a reason to kill someone. A case could be made for killing stupid, but that’s another issue. This was definitely NOT Kosher.
The one kind of shooting that is Kosher, is if someone breaks into your house.  After all, your home is your castle, and if someone entered uninvited and unwanted, you have every right to shoot them.  According to legal guidelines, you have to kill them if you shoot them, or they can turn around and sue you for assault and battery, maybe even attempted murder; so if you are going to shoot someone, make sure they are in your house, and make sure you kill them.   If you do kill someone in your house, keep in mind that you will have to have HAZMAT cleaning, to get all the blood and body matter cleaned up that’s splattered all over the room. The cleanup fee could run into the thousands.  It actually might be cheaper to invest in a good security system.
The problem is not guns.  I shoot targets, and enjoy it, but I have never shot a living thing.  I don’t plan on ever killing another human being, unless it is to protect particular humans I love who are in immediate danger.  Other than that, tin cans and targets are definitely in jeopardy.  In the long run, killing humans is just too complicated and expensive.  It’s just not worth it.

24 thoughts on “Ethics of Shooting People

  1. The last I heard, Trayvon Martin was on top of the guy, pounding him to pieces and banging his head against the concrete. Apparently there is an eyewitness to back that up. Also, Martin wasn’t the angel he at first appeared to be. He was on a 10-day suspension from school. It seems there’s a lot we didn’t know at first, when many of us jumped to judgement.

    Just the latest from Fox Radio.


  2. I think the perspective of your host is a typical European one. We Europeans don`t understand that every individual in America is allowed to possess a gun and to use it. In Germany where I live, we have many restrictions. You are only allowed to buy and to possess a gun / a pistol / a rifle if you are in a special danger or as a hunter. And even if you belong to these groups and own such a thing and “to bear arms”, you are obliged to have a “gun possession document”. Thus each legal gun / rifle / pistol is registered.

    The owner is obliged to to keep guns / pistols / rifles in a special wardrobe which is lockable. Munitions have to be kept separated on another place. Police makes controls whether people act in the way described above. If you are member in a shooting club, guns have to be kept in a lockable wardrobe in the shooting club.

    Some years ago there was a gun rampage by a highschool student. 17 teachers and class mates and teacher where shot to death. He was member of a shooting club and his father didn`t keep the guns locked and the munitions kept separate. The court did research whether the father had to be accused.

    • Of course, American views differ from European regarding guns. It is part of our history. An observation worthy of noting, is that Americans understand firearms to be for hunting, sport, and protection. Other than criminals, Americans don’t make a habit of shooting people. In my view, when Europeans have weapons, they make war. Two world wars attest to this. Gun control in Europe is really People control. You apparently don’t trust your own countrymen to use weapons in a responsible manner.

  3. I agree… that whole confrontation was stupid and needless – Zimmerman should have just watched and reported to police (unless he saw an assault on another person taking place). Then again, Zimmerman was not legally obligated to obey advice of a dispatcher to stay back. I’ve read that he was sucker-punched (that is Trayvon initiated the assault), his head was being pounded into the asphalt, that he was yelling for help (eyewitness reported) and Trayvon was telling him he was going to “die tonight”. All this could have been totally prevented. Nobody had to die that night because there was no actual crime taking place before the two got into the scuffle. If I were Zimmerman, I would have called the cops and did everything possible to avoid direct confrontation, but if my head was already being pounded into the pavement in an assault, I too may have instinctively reached for my Ruger. I hope I’ll never have to make that choice to take someone’s life in order to defend my own or of another human being.

  4. Ultimately, I am not sure if someone being on a 10 day suspension is deserving of being shot to death.
    Obviously, that is an overstatement =-)

    But, none of us is blameless…does that make us deserving of being killed? Of course, if someone was chasing after me, I may try to beat them down too.

    • no one is defending this thing. The point of the blog post was to say its better not to kill unless your life is threatened. THe troubling thing to me is that 911 told him NOT to pursue the guy, but he did it anyway. If he didn’t do it, this would never have happened, and the anti-gun lobby wouldn’t be trying to make this worse than it was.

  5. According to the transcript of the actual 911 call, the dispatcher asked if Zimmerman was following him and Zimmerman said ‘Yeah’. Dispatch said, “Okay, we don’t need you to do that.” And Zimmerman replied “Okay”. Later in the transcription, Zimmerman was hesitant to give his address because he didn’t know where the guy was. He had stopped pursuing him. Zimmerman’s story then is that Martin attacked him from behind. According to the police report, Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and from the back of his head, consistent with what he told police had happened. The police report also states Zimmerman was treated by medical staff who were on the scene. And now we have an enhanced video from the police station showing injuries on the back of Zimmerman’s head. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

    • I don’t know how it will come out.. He should not have been pursuing in any case. The thing that upsets me is one jerk does something stupid, and left wingers call for gun control.

  6. Are we all aware that both ABC and NBC falsified information they broadcast? One of them falsified the 911 call and the other falsified video, I can’t remember which was which. Are we aware that Trayvon’s parents claim he was missing, they called the police AND the morgue, all of which said they had no knowledge, despite the fact the body was in the morgue for 2 or 3 days and was there when they said it was not?

    At this point, I am inclined to totally reserve any further judgement until I hear and see something that has a ring of truth to it. This has been so badly mishandled by everybody who has touched it, it defies comprehension.


  7. The thinking behind some of the comments on this post concern me – one of several, “…Zimmerman was not legally obligated to obey advice of a dispatcher to stay back.” The crucial point here is that Zimmerman was not legally *authorized* to follow anyone in the first place.

    A teen walked to the store to buy candy and a soda; that he happened to be suspended from school at the time is utterly irrelevent to this incident. A man who had no identifying insignia (such as a badge) and no authority whatsoever to follow, stop, or detain anyone began following him. From this teen’s perspective he was being stalked by God-knows-what-kind-of-dangerous person – please remember Trayvon was born around the time the Amber Alert system was implemented, and was no doubt exposed to multiple ‘stranger danger’ campaigns throughout his childhood – and childhood is all he had behind him in terms of life experience.

    Not only was it inappropriate for Zimmerman to follow anyone, he had no reason to get out of his car. *If* Trayvon Martin was beating Zimmerman in a fight, it was because Trayvon was standing *his* ground – under the law *he* would have been justified in using deadly force, even if it was only his bare hands. This law was not intended to cover you if you initiate a conflict then find yourself in over your head. In other words, you don’t get to reach for your gun and claim ‘self defence’ if you start losing the fight *you* started. Even if he was ‘sucker punched,’ Zimmerman is the one who initiated this conflict by presuming authority he did not have and the ‘stand your ground’ law should not protect him.

    • Erica… let’s the wheels of justice turn so that all the facts are presented before you jump to conclusions. You seem to have made a judgment already. Unless Trayvon was being physically threatened by Zimmerman and not just verbally confronted with questions, it would not give Trayvon the right to attack someone even if followed and questioned (assuming he attacked first and it wasn’t Zimmerman who started the fight). We’ll find out soon enough when evidence is presented in the court of law. If Zimmerman is guilty of murder and wasn’t a victim of attack as he claims, he should pay the price.

      • Gene, the problem with this case is that the wheels of justice *weren’t* turning at all until public pressure reached a critical mass. I do find it curious that speculation sympathetic to Martin’s perspective is considered “jumping to conclusions” while speculation sympathetic to Zimmerman’s perspective is not.

        I’m not sure what you think we don’t know that we need to know to conclude this was a bad shoot. There will be no additional facts coming forth that point anywhere else but here: Zimmerman should have stayed in his car. He didn’t, his decision set off a chain reaction that led to the death of an unarmed teen minding his own business, and for that he should be held accountable. I am waiting for “all the facts” to be weighed to determine which statute(s) are applicable to Zimmerman – murder 2, manslaughter, criminal negligence, etc. – not whether he could possibly be justified in the shooting.

        I am wary of the dangers of the ‘court of public opinion’ and am concerned about the ability for Zimmerman to get a fair trial after all the media frenzy. Unfortunately the case was going nowhere without all that public scrutiny and outrage.

    • Erica,
      The matter of his 10-day suspension from school, if true, is a STRONG indication of unruly and probably rebellious character. That is most important here, if true.

      Zimmerman was the adult, and Trayvon is a CHILD, under the law, is he not? There are some issues of reasonable authority here which are not at all clear from the highly doubtful evidence.

      I don’t think either you or I really know what the 911 operator said, and be assured that operator has absolutely NO authority at all. His job is to send relief to people in distress. Zimmerman had no responsibility to do or not do anything based on instructions from the 911 operator. He was responsible for his own actions, whatever they were. This is Florida, and here we have the right to defend ourselves against the threat of death or serious injury by whatever means is available. That law should be in force everywhere. There would be a lot less crime, in my opinion.

      Therefore, I think you are not wise to make judgements based on what we THINK we know at this point.


      • Dave,

        “Issues of reasonable authority” is my exact point. A neighborhood watch volunteer has no authority to stop, question, or detain people; doesn’t even have any identifying insignia like a uniform or badge. I repeat: the issue is not whether Zimmerman was obliged to obey the 911-dispatcher; the significance of that exchange is that it establishes he took it upon himself to follow the teen. Following someone is not ‘standing your ground,’ it is proactive pursuit, and in this case was the initiation point of the interaction between Zimmerman and Martin.

        Behavior warranting school suspension doesn’t necessarily transfer from one context to another. It is wholly irrelevant to this case because – again – of principles of reasonable authority. Martin was minding his own business and under no obligation to answer to, or be in any way cooperative with this stranger.

        You say that in Florida you have “the right to defend ourselves against the threat of death or serious injury by whatever means is available.” Again, that is my point exactly – Martin also had that right, and is deserving of benefit of the doubt, as the only means available to him were his bravado, bare hands, and snacks – another fact not in dispute. Zimmerman’s behavior frightened Martin – that is reported by the girl he was in phone contact with when the conflict initiated (confirmed by phone records). It is known that serial abductors look for easy victims; displaying bravado toward someone you believe is stalking you is not “unruly or rebellious” – it is appropriate and reasonable. If your child is walking through the neighborhood minding his/her own business and a strange man begins following him/her in his car, then gets out, do you expect your child to be cooperative and forthcoming with personal information – name, residence, etc? I most certainly would not! Considering this perspective is not “jumping to conclusions.”

        That Trayvon Martin was legally a child shot and killed by an adult makes the handling of this case all the more unconscionable. I do agree with you that this case has been handled poorly by multiple hands. Somebody’s *child* was killed – why was this case investigated by narcotics and not homicide? Where is the photo evidence to document the shooter’s need to defend himself using deadly force? Someone’s *child* is killed, but there is no need to document the damage he did that justified it?! If that’s the case (note “if” – I’m not making a judgment, I’m asking a question), it alone is worth taking to task. Where is the ME’s documentation of Martin’s injuries indicating that he was in a life & death struggle? Was there a tox screen on either of the two? With a minor in the morgue, why were his parents not contacted immediately? Instead Martin’s parents filed a missing person’s report and 3 days went by before they knew what had become of their son. The lead investigator, despite not being from homicide, didn’t buy Zimmerman’s account and wanted to charge him that night – what preempted that? It is not “jumping to conclusions” to ask these questions. These and more have been asked and deserve to be answered, and public outrage is justifiable if satisfactory answers are not forthcoming.

        Be well,

  8. “Gene, the problem with this case is that the wheels of justice *weren’t* turning at all until public pressure reached a critical mass.”

    There you go, Erica, I am glad you see this too – justice to appease a clamoring mob who were not there and didn’t know the details is no justice at all.

  9. Erica, you are still operating on the assumption that you know what actually happened, and you are manking judgements based on that.

    Truth is, you do not know what happened, and if you insist that you do, you unfortunately are very gullible. When news reports differ, which these wildly do, the only thing obvious is that at least one of them is wrong.

    Behavior warrantinh a school suspension most certainly DOES count here. It is just as pertinent as a criminal record, in establishing the character of an individual. Trayvon Martin comes into this mess with one strike against him, and based on what they have told us thus far, Zimmerman does not. That does not, in my mind, make any of the scenarios people such as you have made up any more believable than any other, at this point.

    The only sure truth here is, WE JUST DON’T KNOW, and we have no business inventing stories to get the result we think would be most warm and fuzzy. We know Martin was shot and killed, and we probably know who did it, but we do NOT know for sure any more than that.


    • okay… first of all the trayvon shooting was not the point of my article, yet you guys have seized upon it like that was the main issue. IT WAS NOT MY POINT!!!! I have to say that in this discussion, I find Dave’s comments to really be the voice of reason. He has repeatedly made the point that the facts are not in, and since they are not in, all these arguments are based on emotion, politics and speculation. On this issue, I’m with Dave. Lets wait for the facts to come out.

      • Yes, it was not your point, but I think the Trayvon Martin business was such a hot item that it took over right at the get-go.

        As I understood it, your point, written on the religious holiday of the Aethists, and I suspect with your tongue halfway into your cheek, was that shooting people is for the most part, a bad idea, primarily due to all the fallout that ensues. There are all sorts of questions to answer, excuses to make, many hours of work for police, medical examiners, etc., not to mention the cost of cleaning up the mess. You also went into some of the more practical issues, such as the need to shoot to kill so the intended victim can’t turn and kill you, or sue you for something after the fact.

        I do have to say, though, that if I EVER find someone in my house who is not supposed to be there, I will first give him the opportunity to stand VERY still until the police come. If he fails at that, I will most certainly blow him away with not a moment’s hesitation. Mr. Gun is only a .38 special loaded with hollow points, but at close range he is 100% deadly.

  10. I have now seen one piece of evidence that has the ring of truth in it. Today, FOX showed a photograph of the back of Zimmerman’s head, showing meaningful amounts of blood, coming from several wounds, suggestive of his head having been pounded on something by another person. If I had that being done to me, by someone I could not stop, and if I were armed, I would have shot the person.

    Still, the photo is only one piece of a large puzzle, and most of the pieces are still missing. Florida law, interestingly, does not address how the situation came to be, only that the person with the gun must be in fear of death or serious bodily harm. In other words, Zimmerman may have been a fool, or worse, but the solution to a fool is not to beat his head against the ground. He just might stand his ground hehe.


  11. Good day! This post couldn’t be written any better!

    Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate!
    He always kept talking about this. I will forward this
    write-up to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read.
    Thank you for sharing!

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