To shoot or not to shoot?

Butte County lawmen advise tea partyers on stand-your-ground laws

Paradise Tea Party members packed the Table Mountain Masonic Lodge to talk about when it’s legal to shoot someone.

Paradise Tea Party members packed the Table Mountain Masonic Lodge to talk about when it’s legal to shoot someone.

Photo By Ken Smith

About 200 people attended a presentation last Thursday evening (Oct. 24), hosted by the Paradise Tea Party, on what stand-your-ground laws mean to California gun owners.

The event, which featured as guest speakers Butte County’s three top lawmen—District Attorney Mike Ramsey, Sheriff Jerry Smith and Undersheriff Kory Honea—filled the Table Mountain Masonic Lodge’s main hall to near capacity.

As a steady stream of attendees moved through the lodge’s lobby, they had the opportunity to purchase a DVD of the documentary film Assaulted: Civil Rights Under Fire, by local filmmaker Kris Koenig. There were also pamphlets available that praised the Second Amendment, others touting the party’s platform as well as “Obummer-nomics” raffle tickets, and local politician Gregory Cheadle canvassed for his 2014 bid for Congress.

The meeting began with a lengthy, late-starting and pomp-filled preamble. A prayer was said, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars solemnly marched into the meeting room carrying antique service rifles and a pair of flags—Old Glory and a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” banner. Two women sang a patriotic song and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited not just once, but a second time as well, after tea party member Paul Walters defined every single word of the oath, from “I” to “all.”

Ramsey was first to speak, and focused on California’s self-defense laws. He explained the state has had a “Stand Your Ground” law since its inception, which is further strengthened with something called a “castle doctrine,” enforcing the common legal philosophy that a person’s home is his or her castle.

He explained that state law justifies shooting someone when defending one’s self or family “if the defendant reasonably believes that he or she, or their family, are in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury, or in imminent danger of being raped or maimed.”

“A defendant is not required to retreat,” he continued. “He or she is entitled to stand his or her ground and defend themselves and, if reasonably necessary, pursue a defendant until the threat of death or great bodily injury has passed.”

Ramsey added that the last statement doesn’t apply to preemptive strikes, but such situations as an intruder running to his or her vehicle to fetch a gun. He also explained that the burden lies on the prosecutor to prove killings weren’t done in self-defense if there is any doubt, and the term “reasonable use of force” is based on the collective decision of a jury of 12.

Touting his own efforts to protect the Second Amendment, Smith explained how he and other members of the California State Sheriff’s Association helped lobby Sacramento to turn down 2012 legislation that would have made all long guns and assault rifles subject to registration. He also said Butte County is much more supportive of gun ownership and issuing concealed-weapons permits than other counties.

“Our philosophy is: If you’re not otherwise prohibited because you’re a felon, or you’ve been indicted of something or have some other restrictions that forbid you from having a concealed-weapons permit, then I encourage you to get one,” the sheriff said.

Honea’s speech focused largely on responsible gun ownership.

“There’s more to [gun ownership] than simply complying with the law. It is the duty of all defenders of the Second Amendment to practice, promote and advance the ideals of responsible possession and sensible use of firearms,” he said.

This, Honea explained, means keeping guns safe, and out of the hands of criminals and others. He also stressed how mental illness and emotional instability worsen gun violence, and need to be better addressed.

“Mental illness must be destigmatized in our society so that individuals, family members and friends are all willing to accept it and seek treatment they need,” Honea said. “Early detection of mental illness is considered key in helping to prevent violent acts like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson and Sandy Hook.

“I think it’s incumbent on those of us who strongly support the Second Amendment to advocate for that.”

Afterward, the panel fielded questions about specific situations, with one oft-repeated answer being: “No, it isn’t OK to shoot someone stealing your car, tools or other property.”

Ramsey spoke last, leaving the audience of would-be home defenders with some heavy food for thought.

He explained that part of his duty as district attorney is investigating officer-involved shootings. He went on to share some firsthand knowledge of the lasting damage that shooting someone—even justifiably—can have on the psyche. He told a story about the first officer he cleared of wrongdoing in a shooting, who five years later crashed his car into a train, taking his own life.

“[Being cleared legally] does not take that huge moral burden away when they realize, in the days and weeks that follow, that they have taken a fellow human life.

“You have to be ready for that. You think you may be ready for it, but you are not.”