With the Kyle Rittenhouse trial in the books and the teenager rightfully acquitted, the debate over self-defense laws has heated up. On the left, there is a wide consensus that self-defense with a gun is essentially never justified. Yet, on the right, there are sometimes misunderstandings about when you can and can't claim self-defense.
A new viral video offers some important lessons on that front. The situation is complicated but I'll try to provide as much detail as possible. On one side, you have Chad Read, who was ultimately shot in the encounter. He is the ex-husband of a woman named Christina Read. On the other side, it was Christina Read's boyfriend, Kyle Carruth, with whom she had previously had an affair, and who ultimately shot Chad Read.
What was the argument about? It involved the fact that Christina Read had not abided by a court-ordered custody schedule. Chad Read showed up to collect his child, who was nowhere to be found. That's when the initial argument took place between the two men in question.
Eventually, Kyle Carruth went inside to get a gun. That's where the video picks up.
(WARNING: Graphic content)
— Lose Cruz Texas (@DumpTrumpTexas) November 26, 2021
Now, if your response to that video is “it was the shooter's property, and the other guy was trespassing,” I'd encourage you to rethink that, if you are ever in the same situation. No matter what moral judgment you make here, Kyle Carruth is almost certainly going to be charged after this goes to a grand jury (Texas is a mandatory grand jury state). There are several reasons for that.
To start, it is important to note that the argument in the video predated the presence of the gun. If you engage in a verbal argument with someone and then choose to escalate it by going and getting a gun, you have now greatly complicated any claim of self-defense. That's especially true if you started the confrontation. Again, I know it's Carruth's property, but the question isn't what your opinion may be on property rights, but what the standards at play are in regards to self-defense.
If you've taken a concealed carry class, you were probably taught that you can't start an argument and then finish it with a gun. That's not to say that's an absolute in every instance. Specifically, if the other person presents a clear imminent threat of bodily harm at the moment you shoot (i.e. pulls a gun on you first), then you could claim self-defense. But you better have ample evidence that happened to avoid an over-zealous prosecutor.
Still, in this case, the victim was unarmed while the shooter not only presented a gun first, but also shot at the victim's feet as they were arguing. It was only after that first shot was discharged that the Read went for the gun. Read then lets go of the gun and Carruth finds himself some 12-15 feet away. Finally, then Carruth raises the gun and shoots twice, killing the victim.
Now, what are the complicating factors here to consider?
Some have mentioned the castle doctrine as applying, but that doesn't appear to be the case. The castle doctrine in Texas requires the imminent commission of a felony. That means that if someone is breaking into your window to commit the felony of burglary, you can shoot them. Whether you should shoot them is another question, as taking a life is a serious thing that weighs on a person, but the law will likely protect you in that case. But in this situation, Read was not about to commit a felony, and shooting someone for trespassing is not protected under the Texas castle doctrine.
What about Read threatening Carruth once the gun was presented? The problem there is that you can not shoot someone for a verbal threat. That's where the excessive use of force standard comes into play. Even when Read got in Carruth's face, he did not raise his hand or indicate he was going to physically harm Carruth.
The disparity of force standard is also an issue here. Read was a large man and did walk toward the smaller Carruth to confront him. Yet, in general, two men arguing is not considered a disparity of force. Now, if Carruth were a 110-pound woman, that could change things, but he isn't.
That leads us to the actual shooting, and the biggest reason Carruth is almost certainly not going to win a self-defense case. After Read goes for the gun following Carruth discharging it, Carruth finds himself a good 12-15 feet away. At that point, there is clearly no imminent threat. Carruth sets his stance, lines up his shot, and pulls the trigger twice. Read is struck by both bullets and collapses to the ground, dying as a result.
Further, while Carruth's lawyer is claiming that Read grabbing the gun justifies the shooting, that's going to be a tough sale because 1) Carruth escalated the situation by discharging the gun before Read grabbed it and 2) Read was a good distance away, no longer in danger of getting the gun when he was shot.
Had Carruth shot Read at the moment Read lunged towards him to get in his face, perhaps he would have a stronger claim (though, still weak overall because of the use of excessive force). But because he only shot Read after he had completely disengaged, put distance between him and the victim, and no longer faced an imminent threat, a self-defense claim is likely to fail.
To reiterate, I'm not writing this to start an argument over which man was right or wrong. People will have their opinions. Rather, I'm writing this as a warning to those who have firearms and could find themselves in a situation like this someday. The law is not kind to those who claim self-defense. It's even less kind to those who bring a gun to a verbal argument and ultimately end up killing someone.
Remember, even if you do everything right, all it takes is an over-zealous prosecutor to decide you didn't for you to end up in court and eventually prison. Your perfect argument isn't going to matter in that case, only what the prosecutor thinks he can prove. That means when you discharge your firearm at someone, you better know that you've done everything possible to deescalate the situation and that you had no choice because, at that moment, you were under an imminent bodily threat.
Lastly, I do want to address the difference between Read grabbing the gun here and Rosenbaum grabbing Kyle Rittenhouse's gun. There's a reason the prosecutor wanted to prove that Rittenhouse pointed his gun at Rosenbaum. Had that happened, Rosenbaum would have had the right to defend himself, thereby making Rittenhouse the aggressor. But because Rittenhouse smartly retreated, did not point his weapon at anyone, and only shot when Rosenbaum physically attacked him, he was able to prevail in court.
When Carruth discharged his weapon prior to any physical altercation with Read, that was an escalation that gave Read the right to defend himself by going for the gun. Had Rittenhouse done that, he'd probably be in jail right now. That's how fine the line is.
In short, just be careful. No amount of great internet reasoning is going to save you if you shoot someone without every box checked. And even then, you may still face charges and the possibility of your life being over. Sometimes it's best to be the cooler head and take a hit to your pride than to be the one who kills someone and has to prove you were justified.