"Are You Some Kind of Moron?"
Eugene Volokh links to this Cincinnati Enquirer story about former Democratic Congressional candidate and Iraq veteran Paul Hackett. Early in the morning of Nov. 19, three teenagers in a car “missed a curve” in the road and plowed through Hackett’s fence, then returned to the road and continued on their way. Awakened by the racket, Hackett grabbed his AR-15 and investigated, then followed a trail of (presumably) leaking coolant and found both car and boys at a nearby house. Apparantly without actually brandishing his weapon, he ordered them out of the car and into a prone position, then called the police to report a citizen’s arrest.
The comment thread spends a lot of time on whether the article is correct in referring to the AR-15 as an “assault rifle” (it’s a semi-automatic carbine version of the M-16) and secondarily on whether Hackett exercised good judgement in pursuing the fence-breakers. I’m surprised, though, that none of the discussion addressed this paragraph in the Enquirer piece (emphasis added):
“He told the boys to ‘Get the —- out of the car and get on the ground.’ … He said he did not touch the vehicle with the rifle and maintained his distance. ‘I knew they saw I was armed,’ he said. He said he had done this about 200 times in Iraq, but this time there was not a translation problem,” the Indian Hill police report said.
I wondered if there might be a PTSD angle, and this makes it sound as if there is. In my opinion, Hackett exercised poor judgement–if your family is threatened, the right course of action is to guard them, not abandon them and run off into the night–but it makes much more sense if you imagine him reacting the way he would have in Iraq.
There, his base would be well guarded and he would have both legal status and tactical freedom to run the bad guys down. Here his actions were reckless at best. As one commenter pointed out, he had no idea whether the occupants of the car were armed, high, etc. Faced with an angry armed man ordering them out of their car, the young men had more than enough justification to resist by force. Luckily for them and Mr. Hackett, they chose not to.
Which brings me to the title of the post. It reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where Homer joins a gun club and proceeds to do all sorts of reckless things, including shooting his beer can open. Dumb hick Cletus then asks him “are you some kind of moron?” and Moe tears up Homer’s membership card. I won’t punch Paul Hackett’s ticket, since he may well have woken up and reacted automatically as if he were back in Anbar. But if that is what happened, hopefully he’ll get whatever help he needs.