I refuse to live in fear. I am not a bleeding heart liberal. I have a civic duty. I have to do it. Burglars are not human, they are vermin. I try to be a good person, to do what I should, be a good citizen.
Those are among the words uttered by Byron Smith shortly after he murdered two teenagers in his home last Thanksgiving. There had been numerous break-ins in Smith’s neighborhood near Little Falls, Minnesota. Byron set a trap, making his home look vulnerable and unoccupied. If the burglars were to break into his home, they would come in a certain way, and end up descending the stairs into his basement. There, he set up a sniper’s nest of sorts, with food and beverages and ammo, and waited. Eventually the trap was sprung. One of the two teenagers that had been carrying out these break-ins descended the stairs, Smith shot him dead, and dragged the body out of sight. Then the second teenager came down the stairs, and he shot her. She did not die easily, so he shot her a few times. Then he said a few words into the recording machine that had been running the whole time. Eventually, but not right away, he reported the incident. There are more details, but that is the gist of what happened.
Byron Smith was convicted of homicide. It turns out that setting a trap for possible home invaders and then killing them is not considered one’s right. Or, as Smith might put it, one’s duty.
There are two things about this incident I’d like to point out, one pretty straight forward, the other likely to be controversial. Let’s start with the straight forward one.
The chances of this working are slim. If there are burglaries happening in your neighborhood, and you set up a trap like Smith did, the chances that the trap will work are not high. But the trap did work for Smith. I know this is only a single incident, but think about this for a second. It is safe, though not statistically provable by any means, to assume (or at least, guess) that for every trap-setting Byron Smith there is a large number of others doing the same thing but not getting results. In fact, there are probably a few people who have actually managed to trap people this way, but did it differently than Byron, less overtly, and that we don’t know about. My point is simply this: Among the gun owners in this country who feel it is OK to arm themselves with the expectation of killing one or more intruders, it is likely that a non-zero percentage of them are just like Byron but maybe a tad smarter, or a tad less interested in falling on the proverbial sword once the deed is done.
The second point is that anyone who decides that it is OK to arm themselves with the expectation of killing an intruder is at least a little like Byron Smith. Oh, no, you may say, a person arming themselves is simply trying to protect themselves and their families from danger, they are not attempting to kill someone. But that does not really make a person that different from Smith. There are multiple alternatives to killing intruders. One set of alternatives has to do with keeping intruders out to begin with. Smith made it easy for the intruders to enter his home. What about a person who has $350 to spend on protecting their home, and has the choice between reinforcing the possible entrance ways vs. purchasing a firearm? If one purchases the firearm and keeps it loaded and handy, but has easily broken doors or locks, that is a little like setting a trap, because it is relatively easy for someone to break into your home and, once they’ve broken in, relatively easy to shoot them. That is a passive setting of a trap.
Think about all the different aspects involved here, most of which can be ascertained from looking at the Smith case. Do you feel that taking a life is equivalent to protecting your home? Are you prepared to own a dangerous weapon? Are you prepared to keep the weapon ready and loaded? Did you spend money and effort on arming yourself instead of securing your home better, under the false assumption that you can’t really stop a determined burglar? Did you avoid making it clear someone was home? Do you find yourself checking on your firearm and making sure it is extra handy, instead of taking other action, when you hear about break-ins in your neighborhood? Just how much like Byron Smith are you?
I suspect that the majority of people who arm themselves are not a lot like Byron Smith. But is it OK to be half like him? 10% like him? 1% like him?
If you want to contemplate these questions, I ask you do do one thing as part of that process. Listen to the tape Smith made. Listen to the whole thing, and do so along with reading about descriptions of what happened, what he confessed to, what he was convicted of.
Here is one of the many available descriptions of the event.
Here is the tape. Listen to all of it and imagine yourself being a little like Byron Smith. Or, perhaps, ask yourself how much like Byron Smith is your neighbor, friend, relative, or enemy?