Sheriff's Call to Shoot Home Intruders Prompts Reminders on Armed Citizens

Sheriff Bob Johnson's remarks at recent a news conference are tacit commentary on one of the most interesting outcomes of the de-funding and de-policing movement in America—record numbers of Americans are becoming first-time gun owners and defending themselves against rising crime.

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Sheriff Bob Johnson (Photo: Santa Rosa County SO)Sheriff Bob Johnson (Photo: Santa Rosa County SO)

Last month a Florida sheriff's remarks at a news conference in which he advised citizens to shoot home intruders—and in so doing, potentially "save taxpayers' money"—quickly went viral on the Internet, causing critics to claim his comments to be "wildly irresponsible."

As we reported, Santa Rosa County (FL) Sheriff Bob Johnson told local media outlets—that had assembled for a briefing on the arrest of a man suspected on a spree of break-ins and attempted robberies in peoples' homes and back yards—that an unknown person who shot at the suspect is not in any trouble for defending their home.

"We don't know what homeowner—which homeowner—shot at him," Johnson said. "I guess they think they did something wrong, which they did not."

Johnson then said that if someone is breaking into a home in his jurisdiction, the homeowner is "more than welcome to shoot them" and that he—and by extension, his agency—would "prefer that you do, actually."

Johnson added, "We have a gun safety class we put on every other Saturday. If you take that, you'll shoot a lot better, and hopefully, you'll save taxpayers money."

Consequences of De-Policing

Sheriff Johnson's advice is legally sound—Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law lets people use deadly force to prevent a forcible felony such as home invasion.

But perhaps more importantly, Johnson's statements are also tacit commentary on one of the most interesting outcomes of the de-funding and de-policing movement in America—record numbers of Americans are becoming first-time gun owners, and defending themselves against rising crime.

According to a report issued in January of this year by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), "at least 5.4 million people purchased a firearm for the first time in 2021."

NSSF said in its findings—based on retailer surveys and adjusted National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) background checks—that this is a decrease from 2020, a year during which more than 8.4 million people purchased a firearm for the first time.

That's a lot of new gun owners—and a lot of potential problems for police.

Cops and Armed Citizens

On occasion, police mistakenly shoot armed citizens defending themselves from crime.

One example is when a decorated 73-year-old Vietnam War named Richard Black—who had just defended his 11-year-old grandson from an assault—was killed by police after failing to comply with responding officers' commands to drop the 9mm pistol in his hand.

Another is when a Colorado CCW holder named Johnny Hurley charged at an active shooter—shooting the gunman several times—who had just killed a police officer. Hurley had disarmed the attacker and was fatally wounded by an arriving officer who had mistaken Hurley as the assailant.

Sheriff Johnson included something vitally important in his comments—that his agency works to help ensure citizens are well trained. Basic gun safety and storage isn't enough—it is vital that gun owners know how to transition from citizen responder to excellent witness when police arrive, and the best purveyors of that information is the police.

Gun owners in Santa Rosa County can accept Sheriff Johnson's offer for that agency's bi-weekly training, but not all police organizations offer this type of program. Those departments may instead want to point their armed citizens toward professional training programs offered by the abovementioned NSSF, the National Rifle Association, and others.

While armed citizens must be trained how to act when police arrive, police trainers must also instruct line officers to know how to work with an armed citizen in ways that puts neither party in peril. Verbal communication training for officers is vital, of course, but fundamentals of cover and concealment must be repeatedly reinforced in pre-shift briefings and in-service training.

Further, officers must be reminded that an armed citizen who has just been in a high-stress, life-and-death situation may be suffering from the same tunnel vision and auditory exclusion police are trained to expect. These physiological effects may prevent an armed citizen from seeing a responding officer or hearing an officer's commands.

Nature Hates a Vacuum

Of course, the issue of an armed citizen potentially shooting a home invader is not limited to Santa Rosa County or even the entire state of Florida. It should be common knowledge that the common law principle of the "castle doctrine" allows individuals to use reasonable force—including deadly force—to protect themselves against an intruder in their home.

Further, according to the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL), laws in at least 28 states specify that a person has no duty to retreat from an attacker in any place in which they are lawfully present. At least ten of those states include language stating one may "stand his or her ground."

As has been previously written in this space, nature hates a vacuum. When the police exit the arena, the bad guys enter it—that's just simple physics. Every manner of crime will increase and as a consequence, private citizens will take up arms in their own defense, seeking to fill the void left by the police who have been either litigated out of effectiveness or legislated out of existence.

Where the police do remain, they must be prepared for the possibility that when they arrive to the scene of a crime in progress—or to a location where a report must be taken—the folks in uniforms may not be the only "good guys with guns" present.

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