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While the rest of the world is debating large capacity magazines and assault weapons, I wish to point out something which other people have pointed out as well: Vice President Joe Biden recently said that shooting warning shots into the air with a shotgun was a good idea, while neglecting the fact that it’s actually flat-out illegal to do so in most states.  He has rightly earned a lot of derision for this comment, but I have yet to see someone point this out:

Consciously, carefully chosen warning shots actually should not be illegal.

The argument against warning shots is well reasoned and well formed, but is largely based upon the fact that warning shots are very illegal in most places.  In fact, in many instances it is legal to kill someone but not to scare them off.  This is stupid.  This is the kind of thing which liberals really should want to see changed.

The mechanism here is that in general, discharging a firearm within the limits of most cities is illegal.  Use of force generally boils down to, “by the time you’re justified to pull the trigger at all, you are justified to shoot to stop the threat.  And if you’re shooting anywhere other than the offender, you clearly weren’t in fear for your life.”

What I propose, then, as a point of discussion, is a “Warning Shot Exemption”.  Written simply, it would be an exemption to the general prohibition on unlawful discharge, provided that the following apply:

  1. The bullet remained within the shooter’s own property (the shooter may be required to prove this via bullet holes; this could be debated).  This exemption does not apply when injury or property damage to other parties has taken place.
  2. As soon as practical, the shooter has filed a police report describing the terms under which he/she was required to discharge his/her weapon.  Practical could be up for definition of course, but a day would be a sensible maximum.  If you’ve had to discharge a warning shot, there’s no good reason you can’t have called the police to file a report within 24 hours.
  3. Shooting up into the air is not a safe, well considered warning shot unless it was a shotshell using no larger than #7 shot (birdshot).  You may be required to produce a spent shotshell if you claim this.

I am sure that this will garner some kind of responses alleging that this is a stupid idea, and we’re somehow signing away rights, etc.  As a counterpoint, I observe that this creates no new crime, and only provides an exemption to existing crimes.

Let me give some scenarios:

  • Someone is in your front yard, threatening you, and refuses to leave.  You place a warning shot into the dirt.  You’ve chosen a safe direction, and there’s no ricochet.  You show the hole to the police if you know where it is, or otherwise they take a look around the area and check to see if any cars (other than your own, which you may use as a backstop if you choose) or houses nearby have bullet holes.  You don’t go to jail.
  • Someone has broken into your house.  You are aware of the structure of your house, and put a warning shot into your couch, where you know no one is.  You show the bullet hole to the police.  You don’t go to jail.
  • Joe Biden’s wife is on the balcony, and someone’s threatening her.  She shoots into the air with birdshot, which is at worst mildly annoying when it lands.  She presents the shell to the police, still warm, when they show up to take their report.  She does not go to jail.
  • You happen to live in the country, where warning shots aren’t illegal to begin with.  You don’t necessarily have to bother calling the police because the law regarding you hasn’t changed one bit.

I know some of the arguments which will be made against this:

  • “All the guys who like to shoot into the air at New Years will get a free pass now!” You mean, they don’t get a free pass already?  Because they do.  Also, if they haven’t filed a police report, they’re still just as much on the hook as they used to be.
  • “This just means people will shoot randomly to scare people away!  And innocent passers-by will get shot up!”  Seriously, meet some real shooters.  And read the actual proposal: the exemption only applies to instances where it is confirmed that the bullets remained within your own property.  Otherwise, the existing law remains in effect and the discharge is still a crime.
  • “What kind of liberal crap is this?  File a police report?”  Well yes, I suppose it’s much more preferable to just get sent to jail if you don’t feel like shooting some idiot who claims your gun’s a toy or that you don’t have the guts to pull the trigger.  Again, this is an exemption against an existing crime, not a new crime.  This doesn’t cost the pro gun rights side anything.

— Sean Newton, aka grammaton76

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