Cincinnati Zoo Fiasco: To Shoot or Not to Shoot?
Recap: Last week a 17 year old Western Lowland Gorilla, Harambe, was shot and killed in a Cincinnati Zoo causing a huge outrage by the general public. It was Saturday when a three year old boy fell into the Gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and was then dragged around by the Gorilla in the shallow moat surrounding the habitat. The boy, who told his mother he wanted to go into the enclosure before the incident happened, has no serious injuries resulting from the Gorilla's behavior.
The zoo's Dangerous Animal Response Team decided to shoot and kill the gorilla after a 10 minute encounter. The zoo officials say that tranquilizing the animal could have possibly agitated it, and perhaps may have spurred the gorilla to injure the boy. Of course there is outrage over shooting the critically endangered species, even if it was to save a little boys life.
Regardless of who the animal rights activists are putting the blame on, how would you feel, as a concealed carrier, if you had been there to witness the situation first hand? Would you have jumped in and tried to defend the boy with your firearm, risking ostracism and possible legal repercussions? Or would you have stepped back, thinking this is way above your pay grade, and called 9-1-1 for help?
The decision to protect yourself using lethal force, is a choice you should have given thought to before you started carrying a firearm (and a discussion for another time). The decision to protect someone else, however, is a decision that is usually made in a split second with no prior thought to the repercussions.
As a society we should take situations like this one and reflect on what was done and how we could possibly do it better in the future. This is why training is so important too. You can think up as many scenarios as your brain can possibly muster, but in the end you won't be able to make a well thought-out and educated decision about everything, and good training (and an education in self defense laws) can make up for those times when a decision has to be made in seconds.
Back to the topic at hand: Let's say you're at the Cincinnati Zoo, the boy falls into the enclosure and you decide to go in after him, to try and help him out.
In some states, you are allowed to use deadly force if you or someone else are under immediate danger of death or grievous bodily harm. This is why you had better have a very good understanding of exactly how narrow of a spectrum it is that you are legally allowed to use deadly force. There is nothing worse than not understanding what immediate or imminent means. In the court system, it doesn't matter if you're suspicious, if your emotions are running high or if you feel like you're in danger. Ignorance of the law, especially when using deadly force, is not a defense anywhere, period.
It doesn't matter if the threat is standing next to you screaming and threatening to kill you, or just pointed his pistol at you, demanding you hand over your money and is now running away. None of these scenarios fall under imminent or immediate, because at present time your life is not in danger.
Now from what we know, the boy had jokingly (he's three, so his sense of humor really sucks) told his mother that he wanted to go down into the habitat. This means that though he was three years old, he probably did actually want to go into the habitat and had the intention to do so. So after he fell in, you jump in to defend him and the gorilla has dragged him through the moat, just as he did in the video clip. Once he stops, he grabs the boy and you have no idea what is going through this animal's mind- you have no idea what he'll do next. The gorilla is becoming more and more agitated because of people screaming and in a moment of high emotion you end up using deadly force -- can you now claim self defense (for the boy)?? According to CNN.com the laws regarding self-defense in Ohio say, "To use a self-defense claim you cannot have caused the situation and need to have reasonable grounds and an honest belief that you are in immediate danger of death or great bodily harm and that your only way to escape that danger is the use of force."
Since the boy said beforehand that he wanted to go into the enclosure, does that mean he caused the situation that has resulted in the use of deadly force? And does that mean that you could now be charged because of it? Some people want the mother of this child to be criminally charged for the death of the gorilla, can you just imagine if a CC-er came in to defend the boy and not the zoo's own response team?
These are questions that would be considered during an imagined scenario, but unfortunately, you wouldn't have time to even think about during a real life situation. If you have time, think twice before diving in to save the day. Your concealed carry permit is not a super hero permit, it just means you can hide a self defense tool on your person. Should you ever get into such a situation, try to remain as level-headed as possible and determine if the risk is life threatening and imminent, and also if the most extreme legal repercussions would be worth using lethal force. Luckily, the Dangerous Animal Response Team was there to save the child, much to the dismay of animal activists.
Keep reading the news for more training scenarios- I swear, you can't even make some of this stuff up.
Nothing in the article constitutes as legal advice, should you have any question regarding any specific fact, law, or situation, you should contact a competent attorney.