Viewpoint: Layton man fires gun at burglary suspects

In what situation does a person decide it’s ultimately worth it to fire a gun at another person?

This argument was brought up again on the local level after a Layton man, aged 64, arrived home late Thursday afternoon to find a trio of burglars attempting to break into his home. One 47-year-old suspect, according to Layton police, was attempting to pry his way into the front door using a crowbar. The homeowner pulled a handgun from his car to confront the man at the door, ordering him to drop the tool. Two other suspects (a 60-70-year-old male and a 20-30-year-old woman) backed out of the driveway in a van and started driving away.

Many details are hazy on the situation after this point, but what appears to have happened next deserves at least a raised eyebrow, if not some firm questioning.

The homeowner, seeing the van backing out, decided his best course of action was to fire his weapon at the van. Apparently, protecting your home from burglars involves trying to kill them as they are running away, already thwarted by having been caught.

At this point, police were summoned by a 911 call. It is unclear yet whether that call came from the owner of the home or a neighbor alerted by the gunshot. As police arrived, the homeowner’s attentions were sidetracked, and the burglary suspect decided to take off into a close field. The Layton man fired once into the field after the suspect before officers (who probably get tired of half-cocked citizens trying to play Jack Bauer) ordered him to put the weapon away.

Officers then located the suspect, arrested him without incident, and have filed a litany of charges against that suspect, including burglary, assault, speeding, criminal mischief and possession of a controlled substance. The officers then turned their attentions toward the man who decided to take justice into his own hands (and, thankfully, failed at it). The homeowner was arrested and booked on two misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment, and is currently released and waiting for further proceedings.

Under current U.S. law, justifiable homicide is “killing without evil or criminal intent, for which there can be no blame, such as self-defense to protect oneself or to protect another, or the shooting by a law enforcement in fulfilling his/her duties.” Different burglary laws and unlawful entry rules apply to different states, but the situation in Layton does pose an interesting moral question: When is it OK to shoot someone who is breaking into your home?

Without offering any opinions about gun ownership, keeping guns in cars or other heavily debated issues, and without knowing many of the details surrounding this case, it can be reasonably said that shooting at criminals who are fleeing the scene of the crime — criminals who appear to be unarmed, without hostages, without even carrying any stolen possessions, and without any obvious intent to harm the owner or members of the owner’s family — is not just rash and unwise, but also wrong.

Some poor decision-making may be chalked up to adrenaline or fear, but firing at a running suspect after police have already arrived is just plain ill-advised. The homeowner himself could have been killed by police. Also, if any of the suspects had actually been hit, that would have landed the homeowner in a lot more legal trouble than he is now. Worse yet, something or someone else might also have been hit. Too much collateral damage and too many wounded or killed innocent bystanders are chalked up to “protecting my home.”

Owning a gun and protecting one’s home is well within a citizen’s legal rights, but firing a gun at unarmed suspects (even ones caught in the middle of committing a serious crime) is always morally questionable. Accidentally (or intentionally) killing one would have been much, much worse, and it’s a good thing that isn’t the question being debated this weekend.