In the “play stupid games, win stupid prizes” department, a GGWG is spending 10 to 20 years behind bars for shooting another man at church. The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently affirmed his conviction, rejecting his claim that he was defending himself in Commonwealth v. Storms.
Storms had a valid license to carry firearms and was carrying in church. He also had the terrible sense to purchase a “conceal carry badge.” As if buying a badge isn’t bad enough, he then pulled the badge during an altercation with an unruly parishioner at church. As noted by the Court, “[Appellant] had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. As soon will become relevant, he also obtained a gold concealed weapon permit ‘badge.’ The unofficial badge is not issued in connection with the permit but can be obtained on the Internet.” Storm then inserted himself into a situation he frankly should have stayed out of, and let actual badged law enforcement handle.
An unruly parishioner caused a bit of scene at Storms’ church one Sunday. Ushers tried to calm the man down, and the associate pastor told them to back away and call the police. At this point, Storms should have stayed out of it. The unruly gentleman, soon to be a victim, was calm by all witness testimony, had been given notice to vacate, and police were on the way. This was a simple defiant trespass at this point which police could have handled. Instead, Storms wanted more done, and approached with the intent of removing the victim from church.
The trial court recounts what happened next:
With the two separated by a row of chairs, [Appellant] asked [Decedent] to go outside with him. When [Decedent] refused, [Appellant] flashed his unofficial concealed weapon permit badge. [Decedent] recognized it as a fake, telling [Appellant] as much in colorful language. [Appellant] then revealed his 9-millimeter pistol. The victim reacted by punching [Appellant] in the face and proceeding toward him. [Appellant] absorbed the blow and, rather than retreat down the open aisle behind him or call for help from the hundreds of people in church, squared himself into a ready fire stance and shot the unarmed [Decedent] twice. One of the bullets pierced [Decedent]’s heart and he died soon thereafter despite life-saving efforts by fellow parishioners and emergency medical responders.
There was unquestionably a 20 year age difference between the two, and Storms testified he believed the victim was “younger, bigger, faster, and stronger” than him, could kill him, and would take his gun and use it. While this may all undoubtedly have been true, a disparity of size and strength, as well as a generalized fear of having your gun taken, does not excuse “continuing the difficulty that results in the slaying” nor failing to retreat when it was safe to do so.
Brandishing a fake “badge” unquestionably continued – created, in fact – a difficulty that was not present until Storms intervened. The victim was calm and police were on there way. The badge elicited an unsurprising reaction from the victim and escalated his anger, causing him to focus on Storms. Now, it is absolutely true that a citizen may make an arrest in Pennsylvania. See 18 Pa.C.S. 508(b). However, one cannot create the need to use deadly force by inserting oneself into a situation. You lose the “mantle of innocense.” Juries do not buy that, and neither did the appellate court here.
Ditch the badge. Leave the arresting to the professionals, and you won’t spend 10 to 20 years in jail like Storms is.
Commonwealth v. Williams had so many other things going on with it that I missed the Stand Your Ground aspect of it when it was issued on December 8, 2017. Since decisions on SYG have been few and far between since SYG was adopted in PA a decade ago, it’s worth taking a look at. Williams involved a claim of SYG when the defendant was “engaged in a criminal activity.” It also involved being “in illegal possession of a firearm.” SYG may not be invoked when either is true.
The appellate court only adopted the trial court’s reasoning and did not really discuss this issue further. However, the trial court’s reasoning made clear that the defendant was precluded from raising a SYG defense because he was in illegal possession of a weapon (“Since Appellant clearly was in illegal possession of the firearm, he could not stand his ground and use deadly force”). Of course, a person in possession of a license to carry firearms should generally not have to worry about being in illegal possession of a firearm. However, if you carry, you should take care to be aware where you cannot carry even with a valid license to carry firearms. Under the law, if you were carrying even with a valid permit in a location where carry was prohibited, you would (legally speaking) be in illegal possession of a firearm under Section 505(c)(2.3).
While I think the argument is more tenuous, there is nothing stopping a prosecutor from arguing someone is “engaged in a criminal activity” when they are in illegal possession of a firearm or other prohibited offensive weapon, even if that weapon was not used during the incident. In other words, take care that your pepper spray, folding knife, key chain “kubotan,” and other EDC items are in fact legal in your jurisdiction and where you are specifically located. The Prohibited Offensive Weapons statute (18 Pa.C.S. § 908) has a laundry list of items that are illegal to carry in Pennsylvania.