Almost immediately after Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker announced yesterday that 56-year-old Gail Gerlach would face a charge of first-degree manslaughter in the slaying of auto thief Brendon Kaluza-Graham on March 25, debate over the use of deadly force in the case erupted anew.
It continued this morning on the airwaves of Seattle’s KVI, where host John Carlson maintained that, in his opinion, Gerlach did not violate the letter of state law when it comes to the use of force to stop a felony in progress. Earlier, a majority of gun owners on six different Northwest and national gun rights forums, responding to a poll asking whether it should be allowable to shoot car thieves, said it should be legal.
Here is what the Washington statute, RCW 9A.16.050 says about using deadly force:
Homicide is also justifiable when committed either:
(1) In the lawful defense of the slayer, or his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, or sister, or of any other person in his or her presence or company, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design on the part of the person slain to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury to the slayer or to any such person, and there is imminent danger of such design being accomplished; or
(2) In the actual resistance of an attempt to commit a felony upon the slayer, in his or her presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he or she is.
Carlson argued that a careful reading of the language in Paragraph 2 validates Gerlach’s use of deadly force to stop Kaluza-Graham. Gerlach, according to Carlson, was resisting an attempted felony – theft of his SUV – in his presence. This will all be sorted out in court.
One might also get something from reading gun owner comments on the six forums where the poll was posted on March 27 by this column. They include Seattle Guns, Shooters Northwest, Northwest Firearms, Gun Rights Media, Wa-Guns and Defensive Carry. Examiner has readers on all of these forums.
By bizarre coincidence, the Gerlach charging decision came on the same day that the Seattle Times posted an on-line report that the number of firearms-related deaths in Washington exceed the number of traffic-related deaths. In 2010, according to the Violence Policy Center, an anti-gun organization that sensationalizes firearms fatalities, 609 people died in Washington from gunshot wounds. This number included 464 suicides. The same year, 554 people died in car crashes, but there is no reference to the number of people who killed themselves by asphyxiation in their vehicles.
It is in the reader comment section where this writer was singled out. One reader noted that he did not see a response from the National Rifle Association or a “local expert” and named this writer as the expert. That drew an interesting reaction from someone identifying himself as “safety, wellness, diversity” who contended: “Workman is an ‘expert?’ He is known to be a member of the NRA. He has supported the legalization of assault style weapons by calling them ‘sport utility’ weapons.”
It will be up to a jury to decide whether Gerlach acted within the parameters of the law or fired irresponsibly at a car thief. Times readers can decide what constitutes being an “expert.”