• Spring guns remain a bridge too far in property defense, but otherwise many of the public are not too fond of burglars.

    About twenty years ago (just before everything was put on the Internet), in southern Massachusetts a tradesman faced ruin from repeated burglaries in his workshop. Finally, he spent a night waiting in ambush, and shot a career burglar breaking in.

    Although Massachusetts law had been changed to protect a homeowner in his home, it did not excuse a business owner in his place of business. Nevertheless, the county DA refused to prosecute; he did not want to waste scarce resources on a likely jury nullification.

  • Like the case Hugo cites, there are many variants, and perceived intent matters.

    A spring gun or other booby-trap device is like laying a landmine. It is indiscriminant, inherently non-proportional in response, and poses undue risk to any who might fall into its trigger for non-nefarious purposes. e.g. what it they farmer has chest pain and calls 911, or his neighbor calls on him, or that it is the neighbor’s cat, or he simply forgets and shoots himself (smiles for Darwin aside.)

    For the shop-owner, intent matters too. If his goal as discerned by a jury is to inflict lethal punishment while he lies in wait that is much more problematic than if he is securing his property, and intends to announce to would be burglars at the door knob that he is armed and ready to defend himself against the physical threat he is now in.

    • As a practical matter, gasman, you may be right about the “goal as discerned by a jury”–but as a purely legal matter, the shop-owner had every right to be where he was, and he had every right to be armed (presumably). Thus, the legal question really should have been whether he had the ability to retreat. The “lying in wait” formulation unfairly infringes on his right to be where he is. Additionally, there is no duty on my part to announce anything to anyone trying to break into my property.

      Consider this hypo: I am a licensed CCW, and I decide to walk streets in a bad neighborhood with the goal of exercising my right to self-defense and blow a would-be robber away. My goal in being there should be irrelevant because I had every right to be there. I would even go so far as to argue that arguments to the contrary are pernicious.

    • I understand what you’re saying about it being indiscriminant, however until that happens it seems like they were penalized for what could happen, not what actually happened. I don’t think it was meant to be lethal if he used a 20 gauge pointed at the legs.

      I wonder with all the recent changes in Stand Your Ground or Castle laws if there wouldn’t be a different result now.

  • It is possible that the tradesman was not setting up an ambush, but instead was merely sleeping on the premises in order to protect it.

  • Thirty years ago, a Miami business owner in a high-crime area electrically wired the grill on the front door in an effort to stymie burglars. Sure enough, a burglar broke in through the ceiling and was electrocuted when he tried to exit through the door..

    The State Attorney took the businessman to the grand jury. They refused to indict, perhaps in a nod to overwhelming public support for the businessman.