Man Living in Homeowner's Garage Shoots Homeowner in Self-Defense

Every week there are new stories about homeowners using guns to defend themselves against dangerous intruders. This might be the first time we’ve ever heard of the opposite case: a man shooting a homeowner (in that homeowners very home!) and claiming self-defense.

It’s not like a thief broke into a home and claimed self-defense, though. That would just be silly. This shooter was allowed to be in the home… kinda-sorta-maybe.

According to reports, 41-year-old David Pelican was living in the garage of 37-year-old Justin Chapman and his wife’s home. However, Chapman and his wife had been separated and authorities say that he was not “fond of Pelican living in his garage as he was attempting to work things out with his wife.” Perhaps that means that his wife was ok with Pelican there, but we don’t know that for sure.

In any event, Chapman decided that Pelican had to go. Chapman kicked down the door to his own garage and the two men fought before going their separate ways. A short time later Chapman returned for round two, but this time Pelican was ready. Pelican fired his .22-caliber handgun twice at Chapman, striking him once in the leg. The bullet fractured Chapman’s kneecap. Pelican told police that he intentionally aimed low because he wanted to wound rather than kill, and that he felt afraid for his life.

Chapman was transported to a hospital and is in stable condition. No charges have been filed against Pelican.

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In addition to all of the typical questions that come up in a self-defense shooting (“Should he have pulled the trigger?” “Was the shooter’s life really at risk?”), this case involves sticky private property issues. It’s currently unclear what sort of arrangement Pelican had with Chapman or his wife, but that could make or break the case. After all, tenants have rights and landlords typically cannot force their way into an apartment and kick the tenant out willy-nilly. If the living arrangements were completely informal, then Pelican might have been justified in kicking out his house guest.

Washington state does have a stand your ground law, which states that homicide is justifiable:

(1) In the lawful defense of the slayer, or his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, or sister, or of any other person in his or her presence or company, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design on the part of the person slain to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury to the slayer or to any such person, and there is imminent danger of such design being accomplished; or

(2) In the actual resistance of an attempt to commit a felony upon the slayer, in his or her presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he or she is.

Stand your ground laws typically give shooters the right to defend themselves no matter where they are – possibly even when the shooter is on somebody else’s property and apparently unwelcome.

It’s unfortunate that the details of Pelican’s living arrangements are vague, because that could clear up some of the confusion. It sounds like this might be a clash of two different rights: the right to own personal property and the right to defend yourself. When these two rights clash, which one trumps the other? How much do you have to encroach on somebody’s personal property before your right to defend yourself becomes superseded by the homeowner’s right to have whomever he likes on his property?

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