Unless you're living under a rock, you have probably heard by now that a Grand Jury in Harris County, Texas, decided yesterday not to indict Joe Horn, the Houston-area man who was facing possible murder charges for shooting two house burglars last November.
Texas has a castle law, that allows you to treat your home as a castle and protect it as such if someone is threatening your home and its contents, which theoretically include both the people your home might "contain" and the stuff it contains. So someone breaks in, you don't have to flee and hide till cops arrive. You can fight back with deadly force. We have a law like that in Florida too.
Anyway, here's the twist: The house that was being burglarized was not Horn's. It was his next door neighbor's.
As the story's been reported over and over and what you can hear on the 911 tape is that:
- Horn realized a burglary was taking place and saw the men as they were fleeing the house
- Horn called 911 and told a dispatcher he wasn't gonna let them get away unchecked
- Horn warned the dispatcher that if cops didn't show up tout (de) suite he was gonna go outside and confront the burglars
- Horn warned the dispatcher again that he wasn't kidding and would blast the burglars if he had to
- Horn went outside and warned the burglars he'd shoot 'em if they moved
- They moved and Horn blew them both into the next life.
Immediately and unfortunately people in the Houston area drew lines in the sand along racial and political lines.
Joe Horn is white. The two former burglars were brown. Joe Horn is an American citizen. The two late burglars were illegal immigrants from Colombia.
Horn's supporters argued that he had every right to protect his neighbor's home and property as he would his own. They argued the "castle doctrine" applies to one's immediate community, not just one's own house and property. A police officer, who said he witnessed part of the incident, said that while one of the burglars may have been shot in the back, at least one appeared to be moving toward Horn when he fired. Also, one of the burglars was reportedly armed with a crow bar.
Horn's critics argued that he could've fired a warning shot in the air and gotten the crooks to stop, or that he could've shot 'em in the legs or some place else that might not kill 'em, or that he shouldn't have fired at all 'cause no amount of property equals the value of a human life. They point out that his intention all along was to kill, since on the 911 tape when the dispatcher warns Horn that he'd better not go outside 'cause he's gonna get himself shot, Horn snaps back "You want to make a bet? I'm going to kill them."
I gotta tell you this wasn't a tough one for me, not for more than a few minutes anyway. While I generally cringe at the thought of vigilantism, unless its being committed by Batman (not the frilly 1990s Batman but the one from the 1930s comic books with a chip on his shoulder), I'm not gonna lose any sleep over Joe Horn not being indicted.
Yeah, Horn could have handled this incident better. He could've called 911 and stayed inside his, his house. But he didn't.
And though it's not the PC thing to say, this is the ultimate negative domino effect, meaning none of this might have happened if the burglars had been in a different line of work.
I'm not saying that being a burglar means you deserve a bullet. I admit, in theory your life is worth more than my DVD player. I'm just saying that if they hadn't decided to break into that house they probably would have never met Joe Horn, and he never would have shot them. I kind of doubt if they had crossed paths with Horn in the grocery store or the mall he would have run home, gotten his gun, and returned to shoot them.
When I was in high school in Southeast Virginia, there was an incident in a nearby rural community. Race was not a factor (just as it shouldn't have been in this Horn case), as the young men and the cops were all white. But a group of teenagers stole a car and went for a joy ride along winding country roads. Cops gave chase. The teens' stolen car crashed, and they were killed. Immediately there was a public outcry, because the cop had apparently violated his own department's pursuit policies, which were basically to back off after so many miles, so as not to push the bad guys into driving faster and crazier and putting other, innocent drivers in danger. Even the boys' parents blamed the cop for their sons' deaths.
You could look at it that way, I guess. Again, the cop could have done things differently. He could have followed department rules to a tee and let the stolen car get away.
But - call me crazy - I keep going back to that domino effect. I sort of figured if the car had never been stolen and the kids had never taken it, initiating a domino effect, they might never have crossed paths with the chase-happy cop. One more time, no theft, no chase, no crash. Or am I missing something?
So yeah, what happened in Texas was sad and unfortunate. But how much do you want to bet the rate of home invasions and burglaries in Joe Horn's neighborhood will plummet now?