Stop Thief! I Have a Gun and Will Shoot!
The local news reported this week about a Bridgeport auto shop owner who attempted to stop the theft of a customer’s vehicle. The question is was he legally allowed to intervene in the way he did though? The individual, a CT pistol permit holder, acted in a good faith fashion upon seeing the theft in front of his business. He employed his firearm and fired three times at the fleeing felon. A nearby plainclothes officer hearing the shots ring out arrived within seconds but the thief had already escaped with the vehicle. Want to guess how this turned out?
As a Certified NRA Law Enforcement and Civilian firearm instructor, I’m frequently asked what actions a CT pistol permit holder can and can’t take to protect life and limb. Our students come from all walks of life. Some have previous criminal encounters from theft to stalkers to violence. Others live in less than ideal neighborhoods… or very exclusive communities. Recent students have included seniors with zero previous firearm training, executive types traveling with some frequency and security-minded, small business owners. Regardless the background the expressed questions are generally similar. What can I, a private citizen with a pistol permit license, do to protect myself and others?
In Connecticut we have what’s commonly known as the Castle Doctrine. Plainly stated, state law justifies the use of reasonable force, including deadly force, in defense of premises (a personal residence or a place of work). Essentially an individual who possesses or controls the premise, or is licensed or privileged to be on such premises, has the legal justification to use physical force against someone when reasonably believed necessary to prevent or stop someone from criminally trespassing. Deadly force is determined reasonable only to a) defend oneself or another, b) when believed necessary to prevent the commission of arson or any violent crime or, c) reasonably necessary to prevent or terminate an unlawful entry by force.
Connecticut law allows a citizen with a valid pistol permit to use physical force in defense of property and deadly physical force - but only under certain conditions. Section 53a-21 of the Connecticut Penal Code states;
A person is justified in using reasonable physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent an attempt by such other person to commit larceny or criminal mischief involving property, or when and to the extent he reasonably believes such to be necessary to regain property which he reasonably believes to have been acquired by larceny within a reasonable time prior to the use of such force; but he may use deadly physical force under such circumstances only in defense of person as prescribed in section 53a-19.
Section 53.a-19 of the penal code goes on to state that, “deadly physical force may not be used unless there is belief that the criminal is using or about to use deadly force or will inflict, or is inflicting bodily harm.”
So how does this apply to this situation? Well, news accounts indicate there was a larceny or property theft in progress. Accounts are though the thief did not enter the premises (owner’s workplace) but more than likely acted in a moment of opportunity (seeing idling vehicle). Most criminal acts occur just like this. The criminal did not display a knife, gun or other type weapon in the commission of the crime. So there was no threat or use of deadly force in this situation.
So what happened? Well, first the gun owner apparently didn’t strike the fleeing felon with any shots. Additionally not others in the surrounding area were struck either. The responding officer did however arrest the individual for unlawful discharge of a firearm. We can only hope there was an equal attempt made to apprehend the eluding car thief BEFORE taking action against this individual.
Do you feel this was a reasonable outcome? If faced with a similar situation would you have taken similar action? Interested in more stories like these? Let us know. Stop by our Facebook page drop us an email or get added to our e-Journal full of practical tips and articles.
Author is an affiliate instructor with the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, a multi-disciplined shooter, personal protection specialist and NRA certified law enforcement and civilian firearm instructor. He has a personal passion for helping individuals taking responsibility for their personal security and those interested in becoming informed, responsible, law-abiding gun owners. Safe and Secure Training of CT, LLC is a Veteran owned business serving Fairfield and New Haven counties.
Note: This article does not serve as a basis of legal counsel. Readers should know and understand state and federal laws pertaining to gun ownership and usage and consult with a legal expert in this area.