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When The Young Must Use Deadly Force

Situation:

A violent criminal presents deadly danger to innocent children — and only a young person is in position to protect them … with a loaded handgun.

Lesson:

Having to shoot a human being can be a terribly traumatic act at any age … but not so traumatic as helplessly watching the murder of innocent loved ones.


In June of 2012, a defensive shooting in the Phoenix, Arizona area captured national attention. Reporter Sandra Haros of Phoenix News KTAR wrote:

“PHOENIX: Authorities say a teenager shot and wounded a suspect in a home invasion in Laveen, west of Phoenix. “Phoenix police said the 14-year-old boy heard someone trying to break into his home late Friday afternoon, instead of answering the door the teen went upstairs with his siblings who are 12, 10 and 8 years of age. The boy armed himself with a handgun.

“‘As he’s coming down the steps, a male suspect kicked in the door, entered the home with a handgun in his hand and pointed it toward the young man. At that point the young man fired his weapon at the suspect and the suspect went down,’ said Phoenix police officer James Holmes.

“The suspect has been taken to a hospital and police said he’s in critical condition.
“The name of the suspect and the teen haven’t been released yet.”

Most of us in the world of defensive firearms saw that incident as having a positive resolution. Some folks, of course, were horrified a 14-year-old was able to access a handgun and protect his three younger siblings from a violent adult who broke into their home with a gun in his hand. Perhaps they would rather have let the criminal have his way with helpless children. It can be a sad, weak world. Fortunately, it appears at this time, the police and the prosecutor’s office are treating the boy’s actions as what they obviously were: an act of heroism.

Other Cases

Editor Roy Huntington and I got to talking about the topic, and young people in armed, defensive situations, and he remembered an incident I wrote up in this space in the March/April 2003 issue. It’s the policy of both the magazine and the criminal justice system not to publish the names of juveniles who are forced to use guns in self-defense.

In that case, right at a decade ago, the shooter was 11 years old. His mother had fallen into the drug world and wound up in prison, and he had been adopted by his maternal grandparents. The man of the house, before he died, had taught the youngster to shoot. His widow and the boy lived alone, when a boyfriend of the incarcerated birth mother came to their house in South Bend, Ind. to steal the family’s gun collection.

Entering on a pretext, the hulking 28-year-old career criminal pulled a carpet-cutter and held it to the woman’s throat, threatening to kill her and the young boy if she didn’t give him everything. The kid ran to the master bedroom and retrieved the Llama 1911 pistol that reposed there, cocked and locked and fully loaded with Winchester 230-grain Black Talon .45 ACP hollowpoints. He raced back downstairs and confronted the deadly intruder in the Isosceles stance his late grandfather had taught him.

The intruder tried to swing his female hostage between himself and the boy as a human shield, but he was full of booze and drugs and misjudged the movement. He swung the woman past him instead of in front of him, leaving his side completely exposed to the boy.

As the old man had taught him, the boy carefully aligned the sights, wiped off the .45’s safety, and smoothly pressed the trigger straight back.

At the shot, the home invader’s thoughts apparently turned from murder to survival. He released the woman, ran to the door, and disappeared from view. When police arrived, they found the man dead 40 yards away in an alley. The child’s single careful shot had caught him high in the chest and torn its way side-to-side, coming to rest fully expanded in the opposite side of his rib cage. Along the way, the bullet had slashed through the would-be killer’s aorta.

The criminal justice system investigated, and understood. District Attorney Chris Toth told the press, “He did what he had to do. That’s an unfortunate burden for an 11-year-old to have on him … it’s a tragic situation. Even though this individual who got shot was attempting to rob the mother and her son, he’s still somebody’s son, and obviously this 11-year-old boy was placed in a situation no young person should ever have to face.”

The rescued woman was quoted as saying, “I don’t know how he did that. One shot and he got him. He’s my little hero.” She continued, “He’s proud of himself. He feels bad he took a human life. But he didn’t want to lose me. He lost his dad three years ago to a heart attack.”

When last heard from, the young man had been through counseling and was doing well. He’d be about 21 years old now. I hope he’s still okay.

I wrote in that Ayoob Files 10 years ago, “This was not the first time a child has had to use deadly force in defense of self and family.

A stalker entered the home of his ex and her new lover and shot them both, and the man’s older son. He in turn was shot and killed by the man’s 12-year-old son, with a Ruger Single Six .22 revolver the lad had permission to keep in his room. The youngest such defender I know of was a preschool boy in California who put his mother’s Raven .25 automatic to the head of the man who was attempting to beat her to death, and pulled the trigger, killing the attacker instantly and saving his mother’s life.

Also in California, there was a case of a maniac with a pitchfork who broke into a home and attacked the children who were there. A teenage older sister, unable to access her parents’ locked-up guns, jumped out a window and ran to a neighbor’s house, begging for a weapon. He refused to give her one, instead calling the police. When officers arrived, they were forced to shoot and smoothly pressed the trigger straight back.

At the shot, the home invader’s thoughts apparently turned from murder to survival. He released the woman, ran to the door, and disappeared from view. When police arrived, they found the man dead 40 yards away in an alley. The child’s single careful shot had caught him high in the chest and torn its way side-to-side, coming to rest fully expanded in the opposite side of his rib cage. Along the way, the bullet had slashed through the would-be killer’s aorta.

The criminal justice system investigated, and understood. District Attorney Chris Toth told the press, “He did what he had to do. That’s an unfortunate burden for an 11-year-old to have on him … it’s a tragic situation. Even though this individual who got shot was attempting to rob the mother and her son, he’s still somebody’s son, and obviously this 11-year-old boy was placed in a situation no young person should ever have to face.”

The rescued woman was quoted as saying, “I don’t know how he did that. One shot and he got him. He’s my little hero.” She continued, “He’s proud of himself. He feels bad he took a human life. But he didn’t want to lose me. He lost his dad three years ago to a heart attack.”

When last heard from, the young man had been through counseling and was doing well. He’d be about 21 years old now. I hope he’s still okay.

I wrote in that Ayoob Files 10 years ago, “This was not the first time a child has had to use deadly force in defense of self and family.

A stalker entered the home of his ex and her new lover and shot them both, and the man’s older son. He in turn was shot and killed by the man’s 12-year-old son, with a Ruger Single Six .22 revolver the lad had permission to keep in his room. The youngest such defender I know of was a preschool boy in California who put his mother’s Raven .25 automatic to the head of the man who was attempting to beat her to death, and pulled the trigger, killing the attacker instantly and saving his mother’s life.

Also in California, there was a case of a maniac with a pitchfork who broke into a home and attacked the children who were there. A teenage older sister, unable to access her parents’ locked-up guns, jumped out a window and ran to a neighbor’s house, begging for a weapon. He refused to give her one, instead calling the police. When officers arrived, they were forced to shoot a deadly weapon. On July 6, 2012, I posted the story of the Phoenix boy’s successful protection of his younger siblings on my blog (www.backwoodshome.com/blogs/massadayoob). Many commentators wrote approvingly of loaded guns being available to responsible young people in case of emergency. One even commented he allows his fourteen year old son to carry a loaded gun for protection when home alone. But another reader, Bill H., had a tragic story to share.

“My son’s name was Adrian,” he began. “I taught my three boys gun safety at young ages. They all became proficient handlers of rifles and pistols. They knew the potential. There was no warning. My youngest son, who would have been 15 this month, took his own life with a .38 Special on May 17 of this year. He was a happy, productive and seemingly very stable boy …”

Bill H. concluded, “A girl broke his heart. He made a decision. How could we have foreseen this? We will suffer for the rest of our lives. Food for thought.”

We would probably all agree lethal weapons should be secured from those who have not yet matured into responsibility. However, some reach that level of responsibility sooner than others. There are many cases in the annals of American Rifleman magazine where, for example, youngsters have saved themselves and other children from wild animals and vicious dogs by accessing a loaded gun in the household and shooting the animal. The cases where the “animal” that has to be shot to rescue the innocent has two legs instead of four may be less common but, as we see here, they do occur. Nevertheless, this element must always be balanced against the danger of the sort of tragedy that devastated the family of Bill H.

Capability Factor

Another issue is if the child is responsible enough to be trusted with a gun, the child must also be strong enough and sufficiently familiar with the given firearm to run it effectively. Many years ago, I read of a sad case in the Northeast. An intruder with a stolen gun invaded a home, and held the man of the house at gunpoint, demanding money on threat of death. Recognizing what was happening, the man’s young son rushed to his father’s den and retrieved his dad’s 1911 pistol.

The gun, however, was kept condition three, with a loaded magazine but an empty chamber. The boy tried to rack a cartridge into the barrel, but wasn’t strong enough to cleanly complete the movement, and he jammed the .45. As the kid desperately struggled to clear it, the intruder was alerted by the rattling sound. He shot and killed the child, and then executed the father. He confessed to the details of the double murder later, after his capture.

The Shape Of The Issue

“Ban guns for the sake of the children” is a recurring theme today. A fellow named David Frum wrote the following in July, 2012 in the Huffington Post: “The police can protect you, and will and do. And a gun in the house is not a guarantee of personal security — it is instead a standing invitation to family tragedy. The cold dead hands from which they pry the gun are very unlikely to be the hands of a heroic minuteman defending home and hearth against intruders. They are much more likely to be the hands of a troubled adolescent or a clumsy child.

“In the land of the Second Amendment, nobody will take your guns away. But if you love your children, you should get rid of them voluntarily,” ended Frum.

He wrote that in the wake of the Aurora, Colo. movie theater accident, which involved a 24-year-old doctoral candidate who turned mass murderer. The incident had nothing whatsoever to do with kids handling guns. Yet “kids plus guns equals tragic death” is a mantra the anti-gun crowd just has to invoke whenever “gun control” issues arise.

At such moments, it’s useful to bear in mind there are cases such as the ones we’ve discussed here, where good young people being able to access a loaded gun has prevented murder at the hands of everything from violent adult criminals to dangerous animals. Every year, brave and competent kids rescue drowning people from the water, and pull otherwise helpless victims safely out of burning buildings, and things of that nature. Knowing how to swim and having a grasp of lifeguard procedures can allow a youngster to save someone from otherwise certain death by drowning. Knowing how and when to use a gun can allow that same youngster to save someone from a different manner of death that is just as certain without intervention.

Obviously, there are issues of maturity, competence and responsibility. Some people reach the age of responsibility sooner than others, and some people will never be responsible at all. The parent or guardian needs to take a hard and realistic look at each young person they are charged with raising, before giving that youngster the great power, and commensurately great responsibility, of access to lethal weapons.

In any case, we wish to congratulate the heroic 14-year-old in Arizona youth whose true story began this discussion. We also congratulate his parents, who made the successful outcome possible.
By Massad Ayoob

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