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Please begin with an informative title:

The use of violence is always a tricky proposition.  All sorts of issues come into play: is violence warranted, how much violence is warranted, who is a legitimate target for the violence, how much collateral damage could the proposed violence do...  The list goes on.  And that's just forethought.  What about after action analysis?  Was violence actually warranted, if not what was the gap in information that led to the violence, was it justifiable based on what was known and firmly believed at the onset of violence, was there too much violence, was there not enough violence...  These matters can and are argued ad nauseam over almost every use of force that occurs.

It's a sticky question, and it needs to be discussed.  As such, I propose a quick thought experiment.  I shall establish a series of scenarios in which deadly force has been used.  From each scenario to the next, I will change one variable (the level of threat present), then state whether I feel the line of justifiable action has been reached.  At the end, I'll ask for feed back and your own opinions on where the line is.  Let's begin:


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Consider a man, let's call him Albert.  Albert is lower-middle class white Texan who has a firearm, a holster that allows for quick-draw and the training with both to use them effectively and in a manner where third parties are not put at risk by his carrying (this is a thought experiment, so we can make whatever assumptions we like).  Now let's place Albert at the end of a no outlet alley with nothing to provide him cover.  At the other end of the alley, let's position another man who I'm going to call Bertram.  Bertram is likewise a lower-middle class white Texan armed with a firearm, however he has already drawn and has begun firing at Albert while shouting that he is going to kill Albert.  Luckily for Albert, Bertram was trained to shoot by stormtroopers of the Galactic Empire and so far has failed to actually hit Albert.  Albert draws his weapon and fires, killing Bertram.  Was Albert's use of deadly force justifiable?

I would say it is.  Bertram is actively and unambiguously attempting to kill Albert.  That Albert has not yet been wounded is probably a minor miracle, as even the worst shooter hits the target sometimes (I know from personal experience).  True, Albert being the quick-draw that he is might have been able to make a wounding instead of a killing shot, but that would taken extra time that can't always be counted on in a fire fight.

Let's establish the exact same starting scenario, only let's rewind the clock to before Bertram has started firing.  His firearm is drawn and is aimed at Albert, but the trigger has not been pulled yet.  Bertram is still shouting that he is going to kill Albert.  As a quick-draw, Albert is able to draw his weapon and fire before Bertram get's a single shot off (maybe he can defy the rules of space-time or something), killing Bertram.  Was Albert's use of deadly force justifiable?

Already the ambiguities of violence, particularly deadly force, start to make the issues mildly murky and difficult to make a determination on.  My opinion is that deadly force was justifiable.  After all, Bertram is aiming at Albert, obviously threatening Albert with death, and leaving little doubt as to his intentions.

Again, let's roll back the clock.  Bertram's firearm has been drawn, but is not yet aiming at Albert.  Bertram is still shouting that he is going to kill Albert.  Albert draws his weapon and fires, killing Bertram.  Was Albert's use of deadly force justifiable?

I still say yes, but I agree it is already extremely debatable.  The purpose of a firearm is to inflict damage at a range, particularly damage that is incapacitating or lethal.  Similarly, the purpose of a holster is to provide a storage place for your firearm until you wish to use it.  The act of drawing a firearm indicates the intention to use that weapon for its intended purpose, to inflict damage.  Is there room to doubt the intentions of Bertram?  Sure.  Enough to condemn Albert's use of deadly force?  No.

With all this time travel, a good Doctor Who joke should probably be inserted somewhere, but alas I can't think of one that fits.  Once again, time spins backwards.  Now we go to before Bertram has drawn his weapon.  His shouts of murderous intent are still heard, but Bertram has yet to remove his weapon from his holster.  Albert draws his weapon and fires, killing Bertram.  Was Albert's use of deadly force justifiable?

Perhaps some wingnuts will say yes, but I most certainly will say no. As many a politician has proven, words and actions are two very different things.  Bertram's threats declare an intention to kill Albert, but so far they are just threats, and while the power of words can never be discounted, here they amount to very little indeed.  Bertram's action do not provide a situation for a reasonable use of deadly force or any force really.

For the sake of completeness, let's have one more scenario.  The time moves back to before Bertram has uttered a single word in this encounter.  He stand at the other end of the alley, firearm in his holster, looking at Albert.  Albert draws his weapon and fires, killing Bertram.  Was Albert's use of deadly force justifiable?

Even the lunatic fringe of wingnutistan's most remote tribal regions would agree that the use of any force in this situation is not called for; that Albert's actions constitute murder.  There is no reasonable explanation for Albert to feel threatened enough that force should be used.  It exists as a complete opposite to first scenario, when Bertram had provided every reason for Albert to use deadly force.  In this last scenario, there is no justification.

These have been my own thoughts on when deadly force is justifiable based on one variable changing in a series of nearly identical scenarios.  But I am curios about what the rest of the community thinks.  Please respond in the comments and vote in the poll.

If there is enough interest, I'm willing to do a second one with a different variable or multiple variables being manipulated.

Oh, and if anyone can think of a good Doctor Who joke to throw in, please post it along with where you think it should go.

Extended (Optional)


Which scenario is the last one where Albert's actions are justifiable?

4%1 votes
12%3 votes
58%14 votes
12%3 votes
0%0 votes
4%1 votes
8%2 votes

| 24 votes | Vote | Results

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