Thing that can kill you.

Dear Lord, Florida seems like a dangerous place. The only people who are unarmed there are the criminals. Certainly, the lawyers in Florida have guns, and they apparently know how to use them.

A lot of people will see this as a cool story: cat burglars broke into a law office, and an old lawyer who was asleep at his desk defended himself. We like cool stories about lawyers defending themselves, and this one certainly fits the bill.

But what I see is a person who almost died because of Florida’s ridiculous gun laws. I see a person who was not threatened with deadly force use deadly force anyway. And I see no reason to keep praising this vigilante justice where people can take the law into their own hands, even if they are lawyers….

The story in Florida Today (hat tip: ABA Journal) explains that Florida criminal defense attorney Sam Bardwell awoke during a break-in:

“What I was afraid of, was I realized someone was there,” Bardwell said. “And whoever could do that was dangerous, and so the first thing I was going to do was get myself a gun. … I didn’t dare go get my cell phone to call 9-1-1 ’cause I didn’t know how much time I had. They had been a few feet from where I was sleeping.”

Bardwell — a criminal defense attorney who has worked about 35 years in Brevard County — retrieved a folding shotgun and swung open the door. As he descended a spiral staircase “as stealth as possible” he saw a man in the machine shop area below.

Okay, fair enough. I could argue that the far safer thing to do would be to hide and call the police, as opposed to grabbing a weapon and trying to surprise an unknown number of criminals with unknown firepower. But I realize that most people won’t listen to me when I try to explain that “cowardice” is a better survival strategy than shooting. Also, Bardwell is 60, and you know how old people get.

In any event:

“He didn’t seem like he was afraid of me at all,” Bardwell said. “I wasn’t afraid of him, I was afraid of his buddy. … The guy I cornered, I said, ‘Where is your partner?’ I said ‘I’m going to kill ‘ya, because you’re coming toward me.’ ”

Really? I mean, I’m sure everybody would have believed Bardwell if he shot the guy and said, “He was coming toward me.” But is it really okay to corner a guy and threaten to misrepresent his posture towards you as you try to get information out of him? I mean, I know Batman does this all the time, but we’re not living in a comic book. Or a cartoon. The “It’s coming right for us” defense shouldn’t actually work.

Okay fine, Bardwell didn’t shoot the guy in the corner, which I guess in Florida is what passes for restraint. Yay. And Bardwell is an older fellow, so you give him a pass for trying to sound as tough as possible when his office is being invaded and he can’t possibly know how much danger he’s really in. Let me be clear: I’m not criticizing Bardwell for threatening to kill the guy in the corner. I’m just pointing out that if he had killed the guy in the corner, it wouldn’t have necessarily been justified.

I’m criticizing him for what happens when the suspect escapes the corner and is running away:

“He was out of range to really kill him, but I wanted to put some pellets in him so they could catch him,” Bardwell said. He drew the shotgun and fired, but the “bullets went wild” and hit a stop sign. The stock of the shotgun — which Bardwell didn’t have time to lock into place — kicked up, leaving Bardwell with a gash on his chin standing outside, he said.

What the hell, man? The guy was running away, and still Bardwell shot at him? Out into the streets? Not to kill, but to “put some pellets in him”? AND THIS IS TOTALLY LEGAL IN FLORIDA??? What possible self-defense justification is there for shooting a guy in the ass as he flees the scene of the crime into the street? Even police officers are taught not to do that for fear of accidentally shooting an innocent bystander.

And in terms of wanting the police to catch him, note that at this point of the story Bardwell still hasn’t called the cops! He only calls the police after he shoots, misses, and cuts himself on the chin because of the kick (the only injury Bardwell suffered was the one he got from his own weapon).

In case you were wondering, despite wildly firing and missing into the night, the cops — the trained professionals — were still able to apprehend the suspects. They didn’t need to be wounded by shotgun fire, it turns out the police have things like helicopters and stuff in order to apprehend people.

Of course, Bardwell thinks he’s awesome:

“I wish I was younger and faster. … I’m just a great advocate of people arming themselves. No matter where you are — even across from the courthouse — somebody will come in there and steal from you and kill you. Some bad things could have happened had circumstances have changed a little bit.”

He’s right, bad things could have happened had the circumstances changed a little bit. Like instead of giving these people their right to the due process of the law, this criminal defense attorney could have executed one of them as he tried to run away.

Look, I’m happy that Sam Bardwell is alive and well and was not injured by the people who broke into his law office. But you can’t tell me that the only way for this story to end in zero death is with a 60-year-old lawyer firing a shotgun into the middle of the night. We’ve got to be more civilized than that.

But hey, this is Florida. Why do they even bother to have laws when even a criminal defense attorney is happy to assume the titles of judge, jury, and executioner?

Titusville attorney awakened by break-in fires at fleeing suspects [Florida Today]

Earlier: Lawyer of the Day: They Literally Fought the Law, and the Law(yer) Won


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