Am I my Neighbors Keeper?

Man! Texas is awesome. You have to love a place that makes it legal to shoot people in the back for stealing from a neighbor. Many view Joe Horn as a hero, others view him a vigilante and opportunist; I have no opinion to share. I was not there and therefore cannot measure exactly know how threatened Mr. Horn felt at the exact moment of the altercation, but I do wish to briefly review the event.

According to reports, it was around 2 pm on November 14th 2007 and Mr. Horn was at home doing whatever “superheroes” do in their spare time. Actually according to his testimony he had just finished doing chores and was about to sit down at his computer when he noticed two men entering his neighbor’s home.

The fact that these men chose to bypass the convenience of the front door in favor of the slightly more questionable window entrance, coupled with the fact that they appeared to be planning an unauthorized withdrawal, prompted Mr. Horn into immediate action. He retrieved his shotgun, grabbed a telephone and called 911. What follows is an excerpt from the transcript of Joe Horn’s 911 phone call:
Horn: He’s coming out the window right now, I gotta go, buddy. I’m sorry, but he’s coming out the window.

Dispatcher: Don’t, don’t — don’t go out the door. Mr. Horn? Mr. Horn?

Horn: They just stole something. I’m going after them, I’m sorry.

Dispatcher: Don’t go outside.

Horn: I ain’t letting them get away with this s–t. They stole something. They got a bag of something.

Dispatcher: Don’t go outside the house.

Horn: I’m doing this.

Dispatcher: Mr. Horn, do not go outside the house.

Horn: I’m sorry. This ain’t right, buddy.

Dispatcher: You’re going to get yourself shot if you go outside that house with a gun, I don’t care what you think.

Horn: You want to make a bet?

Dispatcher: OK? Stay in the house.

Horn: They’re getting away!

Dispatcher: That’s all right. Property’s not worth killing someone over, OK?

Horn: [curses]

Dispatcher: Don’t go out the house. Don’t be shooting nobody. I know you’re pissed and you’re frustrated, but don’t do it.

Horn: They got a bag of loot.

Dispatcher: OK. How big is the bag … which way are they going?

Horn: I’m going outside. I’ll find out.

Dispatcher: I don’t want you going outside, Mr. Horn.

Horn: Well, here it goes, buddy. You hear the shotgun clicking and I’m going.

Dispatcher: Don’t go outside.

Horn: [yelling] Move, you’re dead![Sound of shots being fired]

What happened next was 3 shots were fired and both thieves were killed. According to cbsnews.com a woman who lives nearby, who asked not to be identified, told the CBS News affiliate KHOU correspondent Rucks Russell that she always saw Horn as a grandfather figure. “He is the guardian of the neighborhood,” she said. “He takes care of all our kids. If we ever need anything, we call him.”

Cbsnews.com also reported that a letter to the Houston Chronicle said, “He didn’t shoot them in the legs, to make sure they did not run away, or hold them at gunpoint until police arrived. No, he was judge, jury and executioner.”

Another letter writer praised Horn, saying, “Where does the line form to pin a medal on Joe Horn? I want to get in line.” Another wrote, “Let’s get rid of the police force and just hire Joe Horn!” It was also reported that support for Horn was also running about 2-1 in an online survey of readers on the KHOU Web site.

I found it interesting that as Mr. Horn spoke with the police dispatcher, he mentioned the “castle doctrine” bill, which is a newly revised more aggressive take on Texas Law that states, people may use deadly force to protect their own property or to stop arson, burglary, robbery, theft or criminal mischief at night. However, the legislator who authored the “castle doctrine” bill reportedly told the Chronicle it was never intended to apply to a neighbor’s property, or to prompt a “‘Law West of the Pecos’ mentality or action.” Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth said, “You’re supposed to be able to defend your own home, your own family, in your house, your place of business or your motor vehicle.”

Obviously, based on the severity of the action taken, and the fact that these men were both unarmed, Mr. Horn faced a grand jury to determine what, if any, charges he would be indicted for. On July 1st 2008 he was acquited of any wrong doing, removing any possibility of standing trial for murder.

While watching Fox News shortly after Mr. Horn was cleared by the grand jury, I was struck by the comments of one of the correspondents. According to this gentleman, simply feeling “threatened” was justification enough for one to use “deadly force” to defend ones self!

It seems that whenever an event like Mr. Horn’s occurs, it offers a unique opportunity to hear a wide spectrum of emotionally charged opinions; everything from the extremely supportive to the extremely appalled. As I’ve mentioned, I am not writing this to pick a side… I’m sure you have your own opinion about the events that transpired, and those opinions will not change based upon what I say; however, I will say this… If our society reaches a point where simply feeling threatened is justification enough to go on a wild vigilante rampage, the line between violent murderous criminal and innocent self-defender will become severely blurred.

On the other hand, my mother always told me as a child, “Everyday can belong to the thief, but eventually the day will come that belongs to the owner, and on that day the thief pays the highest price…” November 14th 2007 belonged to the neighbor, and on that day two thieves paid the highest price of all…

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