You’ll shoot your eye out

As reported in The Washington Post, eleven-year-old Talladega, AL boy, Chris Gaither, recently used a 9mm handgun to fire on an intruder, eventually hitting the man in the leg.

The details of the story come mainly from Gaither himself, so new information may emerge, but according to the boy’s account, he was in the ground floor of his house and heard a sound upstairs.  He grabbed a knife and confronted a man coming down the stairs.  The man went back up, then came back carrying a gun.  Gaither traded his knife for a handgun that the man apparently didn’t believe was real.  The intruder headed outside, carrying a laundry hamper.  Gaither followed him outside and fired first a warning shot, then eleven more rounds, the last one striking the intruder, having first gone through the hamper.

This is a complicated story, with aspects that make a simple judgement impossible.  Gaither said that his stepfather had been giving him shooting lessons, and this is a good thing for adults to pass on to the next generation.  We might wish that more lessons had covered aiming, but real life isn’t like soda bottles or sheets of paper, and at least Gaither’s score is better than the NYPD’s in a 2012 shooting at the Empire State Building.  Still, eleven of his rounds went somewhere, fortunately not into an innocent person.  One lesson that a good teacher of gun handling will tell us is that we’re responsible for every bullet that goes down range, though, and eleven misses is a troubling thing.

Another problematic aspect here is the handgun being loaded with full-metal jacket rounds.  Gaither attributed the ability of the bullet to penetrate both a laundry hamper and a leg to its status as hardball ammunition.  Perhaps the basket makers of Alabama produce a tougher crop of storage devices than what I’m used to, but I can state from personal knowledge that hollow points will go through the usual thickness of plastic in a cat litter tub as well as FMJ.  And as Massad Ayoob has pointed out, hardball in 9×19 rounds is a danger to anything beyond the target.

Then there’s the fact that the intruder was running away.  Under Alabama’s Stand Your Ground law,

A person is justified in using deadly physical force if they believe the other person is:

  •     About to use unlawful deadly physical force.

  •     A burglar about to use physical force.

  •     Engaged in kidnapping, assault, robbery, or rape.

  •     Unlawfully and forcefully entering a home or car, or attempting to remove a person against their will. (There are exceptions for people who used to live there and are under no injunctions or domestic protection orders.)

  •     Breaking into a nuclear power plant.

All right, the intruder had threatened to harm Gaither and had a gun, according to Gaither’s account, and the man was engaged in robbery.  In some states, his act of running away would have made the shooting unjustified.  Gaither said the man was a “meth head” who had robbed houses in the neighborhood, including Gaither’s, before, and it’s hard for outsiders to put ourselves into his state of mind.  That being said, shooting someone who is fleeing is something that we should think carefully about before finding ourselves in that situation.

The bottom line of all of this is that I say congratulations to Chris Gaither, but add that I hope he understands how lucky he is—just as any survivor of a potentially lethal fight is the recipient of some measure of luck—and how much he needs to continue learning about how to use guns in self-defense in a manner that achieves good results without putting others in danger.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.