Over the last few years, there have been two self-defense shootings that have been front and center in the public eye, due in part to the 24 hours news channels and in part to the racial component that was made a dominant issue in both. The first one is the George Zimmerman shooting of Trayvon Martin and the second, and most recent, the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson. Both cases are very similar in nature despite the fact that one involved an armed citizen on his way to the store and the other a police officer performing his sworn duty.
Perhaps the biggest similarity between the two cases was the fact that both Martin and Brown were not armed with a weapon per se, meaning, neither had a gun or a knife or a bludgeon type instrument. Both individuals were routinely described as being unarmed in what was an attempt by the media, and those who shamelessly benefit from pitting people against one another, to vilify Zimmerman and Wilson and classify them both a murders. Once the evidence was known, however, it was discovered that both Zimmerman and Wilson were completely justified when they employed deadly force, in this case a firearm to defend their lives.
In criminal proceedings conducted in the modern day judicial system, it is not uncommon for the jury to be ignorant of many of the nuances of the law. After all, the jury is made up of everyday people with busy lives who don’t always have the time to be an expert on all aspect of the law. It is the job of the attorneys and expert witnesses to educate the jury so that once the facts have been presented, a just verdict can be rendered and the rights of the innocent can be protected. Fortunately for Zimmerman and Wilson, that is exactly what happened.
For the armed citizen, it is just as important, if not more so to have a strong grasp of the law as it pertains to your right to carry a firearm for personal protection and your right to employ that weapon against an aggressor who is intent on causing you death or grave bodily harm.
Before I get into this any further, understand that I am not an attorney, but I have studied the laws governing use of force for many years. As a police officer, the potential to employ some type of force against another person exists every time I go to work so knowing the law is imperative. As a trainer of armed citizens, it is my duty to know the law governing use of force and how it applies to civilians and be able to articulate that during my classes on concealed carry. So I’d like to think that I’ve done my homework on the topic and am qualified to pass on what I know to everyone who will listen.
In the two above mentioned cases, both the aggressors were unarmed by all accounts, but in both instances, the principle of Disparity of Force applied. For the remainder of this article I shall attempt to explain this principle and why it applied in these cases and why the use of deadly force was justified in both.
One of the factors that must be present before deadly force can be employed is ability. The aggressor must possess the ability to cause death or grave bodily harm against an individual before deadly force is authorized. It’s easy for most people to look at an aggressor armed with a firearm and conclude that they had the ability to inflict death or grave bodily harm, but it can sometimes be harder when the aggressor is larger in stature than the intended victim or possesses physical abilities that trump those of the victim. Make no mistake about it though, it is not as hard as most people think to kill a person with only personal weapons, meaning hands and feet.
In the case of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin was younger and stronger that Zimmerman and had engaged in street fighting for fun. Those three factors alone gave Marin a physical advantage over Zimmerman, but it did not end there. According to Zimmerman, Martin confronted him out of the shadows and surprised him with a punch to the face resulting in Zimmerman going down to the ground. Martin would end up on top of Zimmerman eventually punching him in the head and smashing his head into the pavement. Not only was Zimmerman physically outmatched by Martin, but he also found himself in a severe position of disadvantage once Martin was on top of him. No matter how you look at it, the principle of disparity of force was at play and working to Trayvon Martin’s advantage. If allowed to continue unchecked, it is highly likely that George Zimmerman would have died or suffered grave bodily injury as a result of blunt force trauma to the head.
In the next case involving Officer Darren Wilson, there was both a physical disadvantage as well as a positional disadvantage that factored into the eventual use of deadly force. The evidence supported by witness accounts says that Brown attacked Officer Wilson as he was seated in is patrol car and attempted to take his weapon. Brown, who was much larger than Wilson both in height and weight, struck the officer with a closed fist in the side of the head more than one time before reaching for the gun. The officer was at a position of disadvantage because he was still in his car limiting his options as far as going hands on with the aggressor. Just like as was the case with Zimmerman, repeated blows to the head by an individual who was physically stronger and in a position that afforded him a tactical advantage would most like result in death or grave bodily injury if allowed to continue.
In both instances, both men stated that they were in fear for their lives and in both instances the evidence would support that assessment. Both Zimmerman and Wilson believed that their only option was to deploy a firearm against their aggressors and under both Florida and Missouri law, both men were completely justified in doing so.
There a several factors that can create a disparity of force scenario. In the above examples, physical ability and a positional advantage created a tactical advantage for Trayvon Martin and physical size and a positional advantage for Michael Brown created a tactical advantage for him. There are other factors that can result in a disparity of force situation such as force of numbers, a male attacking a female, an adult attacking a child, a trained fighter vs. an average Joe, or a handicapped person being attacked by so called abled bodied individual.
If you carry a firearm for personal protection, you must know for your own survival that the aggressor doesn’t always have to be armed before you can deploy your weapon. There may be a circumstance when you find yourself at such a disadvantage that you will be justified in utilizing deadly force to stop the threat, even if the subject attacking you is unarmed. If you find yourself on a jury in which you must decide whether deadly force was justified for self-defense, don’t automatically assume that just because the “victim” was unarmed, he wasn’t a threat to do serious bodily harm or even cause the death to the other party. Listen with an open mind to the facts as they are presented and make up your mind whether or not disparity of force was a play.
Don’t just survive thrive!
P.S. – In the example above involving Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson, I illustrated why the principle of disparity of force was applicable and why it justified the deadly force utilized by the officer. It is important to also recognize that once Michael Brown attempted to take the officers firearm, he essentially became an armed subject. One can only assume based on Mr. Browns demeanor that once in possession of the firearm, Brown would have turned it on the officer and pulled the trigger. This assumption can be legitimately made given the fact that it has occurred before in similar situations. For a good example of disparity of force which turned into an unarmed subject arming himself with an officer’s firearm, watch the Lundsford Incident video available an several places on the intent.
Carrying a firearm for personal protection brings with it an awesome responsibility. You have the power to change a person’s world forever, and even the power to take their life. It is you duty as a responsible gun owner to always obey the cardinal rules of firearms safety and to understand the laws where you live and travel with your gun. Do your due diligence become educated on the use of force continuum and become proficient with your firearm before you leave home.