Last week, an off-duty Dallas police officer fatally shot 26-year-old Botham Jean inside his own apartment.
The officer—since identified as Amber Guyger, a four-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department—was also a resident in the same apartment complex, and claims she shot Jean after walking into the wrong apartment and mistaking him for a home invader.
Some have rightly questioned why Guyger was charged with the lesser offense of manslaughter instead of murder. Others have pointed to this incident as evidence that even lawful gun owners are dangerous, and therefore stricter gun control measures are needed on a broad scale against all law-abiding citizens.
Dana Loesch is an idiot.
Botham Jean was killed due to an irresponsible "good guy" with a gun. If Botham Jean was a gun owner and shot back at the cop, then Botham Jean would've still been killed and blamed for shooting at a cop. #LoserDanaLoesch https://t.co/Jt7dpm5PnA
— Sylvia ? (@Slymoonchild) September 11, 2018
absolutely horrid. even after a twelve hour shift, my instinct is never to pull out a gun and kill someone. justice for botham shem jean. stronger gun control. even for police. because absolute power is corrupt. and that’s what police seem to have right now whether on or off duty https://t.co/dEaiDDsaVp
— diggy ? (@abrandon__ship) September 8, 2018
Botham Shem Jean’s death last night was murder. And the woman who killed him needs to be arrested and charged.
But let’s also consider this: In a sane society, with smart gun control, a police officer would check her gun in at the station at the end of a shift.
— Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann) September 8, 2018
It’s important to analyze this situation more closely through both of those lenses.
Guyger Probably Should Be Charged With Murder
Prosecutors have charged Guyger with manslaughter, and will present the case to a grand jury, which could—and probably should—recommend the charge be upgraded to murder.
Texas law doesn’t require an element of premeditation or malice for the offense of murder. Instead, to be guilty of murder, a person must only (1) intend to cause serious bodily injury and (2) commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that (3) causes the death of an individual.
In other words, Guyger needn’t have planned on killing Jean prior to entering his apartment in order to be guilty of murder—she need only have intentionally fired her gun at him while intending to cause serious bodily harm without a legal justification, such as acting in self-defense.
Self-defense arguments require not just that a person feared imminent death or serious bodily injury, but also that this fear was reasonable under the circumstances. In Texas, a person is presumed to have a reasonable fear in a wide variety of situations, including when he uses lethal force against someone who unlawfully entered his home.
There is, however, a major problem with that presumption in this context: Jean didn’t unlawfully enter Guyger’s home. On the contrary, Guyger unlawfully entered Jean’s home—mistakenly, she claims. Guyger must therefore make what is called an “imperfect self-defense” claim, admitting that her actions played a role in making “self-defense” necessary, while also showing that her mistake of the factual situation was reasonable.
Guyger is likely to face an uphill battle on such a claim. First, initial testimony from Jean’s neighbors indicates that Guyger’s version of events may be misleading, thereby damaging her credibility. Second, a significant amount of evidence suggests that Guyger’s beliefs and actions may have been unreasonable, even if her story is accurate.
Guyger claims that she parked on the wrong garage level and that the apartment door opened up just as she placed her key in the lock of what she believed to be her apartment. At least one witness, however, reported hearing a woman knock on the door while saying, “Let me in! Let me in!” prior to the gunshots.
Guyger’s version of events has also changed, particularly as to whether the door was unlocked or simply ajar. The plausibility of either of those situations occurring is doubtful, since the doors in question are operated by an electronic key, much like in a hotel, and can’t simply be left “unlocked.”
Residents from the apartment complex have also posted videos of the way their doors automatically swing shut, making it unlikely the door was inadvertently left ajar.
Further, the apartment doors between Jean’s unit and the elevator are distinctly decorated, making it difficult to believe someone who lived in the apartment complex wouldn’t recognize she was on the wrong floor. Jean’s apartment unit also prominently features a red doormat—a far-from-subtle indicator to Guyger that it wasn’t her apartment.
Finally, Guyger’s claim that it was reasonable for her to draw her weapon and fire in that situation, even if it occurred exactly as she described, is problematic.
She claims the apartment was so dark that she couldn’t realize it wasn’t hers, and that she merely saw a “large silhouette,” which she took to be an intruder. She then fired two shots with extreme accuracy across this allegedly very dark apartment when the barely visible figure didn’t comply with her demands.
Whether that story and chain of events is sufficient to convince a jury that she acted reasonably is far from certain.
There are, however, indications that Guyger may have been exhausted after working a 15-hour shift, and while a reasonable civilian may not have used lethal force in this situation, Guyger was a police officer with a trained instinct to do so.
Not Evidence Against Lawful Gun Ownership
This shooting, even if determined by a jury to be noncriminal, is tragic and likely could have been prevented with the exercise of reasonable circumstantial awareness. But the inappropriate use of lethal force in one situation doesn’t negate the reality that Americans use their firearms in defense of self and others between 500,000 and 3 million times every year.
It’s irresponsible to use this incident to promote broad restrictions on lawful gun ownership by otherwise law-abiding citizens. Consider the following:
- On Sept. 11, in Garland, Texas, a woman and her boyfriend attempted to meet in-person with an individual who had offered online to sell them a camera. Instead, the couple found themselves victims of an armed robbery scam, and the boyfriend was forced to defend himself and his girlfriend by shooting the armed suspect.
- On Sept. 7, in Spanaway, Washington, a 16-year-old girl returned home alone from a visit with her neighbor to find the electricity suspiciously shut off. Fearing for her safety, the teen armed herself with her mother’s handgun and was shortly thereafter confronted at the door by a knife-wielding intruder who attempted to stab her several times. The teen suffered minor wounds, but managed to fire a shot at the intruder, who subsequently ran off before being arrested by sheriff’s deputies.
- On Aug. 29, in Elmira, New York, a 33-year-old single mother defended her four children from a convicted felon by shooting him in the chest with a legally-owned shotgun.
- On Aug. 28, in Winter Haven, Florida, an Uber driver protected himself and his passenger from an attacker who thought the passenger was his girlfriend, with whom he had been fighting earlier in the night. The attacker cut off the Uber driver and approached the car shouting, “I’ve got a pistol. Do you want me to shoot you?” while grasping a dark item roughly the size and shape of a firearm. The Uber driver drew his own gun and shot the attacker once in the chest, ultimately killing him. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd praised the driver, calling the shooting a “classic” justifiable homicide and warning the “hotheads of the community” that “[g]ood people carry guns and they will shoot you.”
Judd is absolutely correct. These stories of Americans using their Second Amendment rights to defend themselves and others truly sum up why law-abiding citizens own firearms and jump through the administrative hoops to get their concealed carry permits. They are fundamentally good people who are willing and able to stop bad people who are doing bad things.
Tragic injustices happen. Lawful gun owners sometimes make mistakes. Sometimes, they even intentionally commit crimes. But they are not the primary source of gun violence, and the total impact of lawful gun ownership skews heavily in favor of maintaining a strong, meaningful Second Amendment right.
Guyger probably should be charged with murder. Other gun owners should not be condemned and punished for her careless actions.