Sowing the Crime Wind, Reaping the Whirlwind

Who would have thought she was doing something dangerous? The young mother was returning home from a late afternoon walk on Nov. 28, pushing her infant child in a stroller. She opened the security gate in front of her home in the upscale Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, taking no notice of the two men in the car stopped across the street. Before she could close the gate and enter her home, the two men followed her into her yard and robbed her of her backpack and diaper bag before escaping. Neither the woman nor her child was injured.

Not as fortunate was Southern California philanthropist Jaqueline Avant, 81, who in the early morning of Dec. 1 was murdered in her Beverly Hills home. Named as the suspect was Aariel Maynor, 29, a recent parolee from the California prison where he had served a four-year sentence for robbery. Maynor was arrested by LAPD officers after he shot himself in the foot during a second home invasion in the Hollywood Hills, a few miles from the Avant crime scene.

We're no angels.

And out in the equally tony neighborhoods of West Los Angeles, residents are worried over a spate of similar crimes. The map at right, taken from the LAPD’s crime mapping website, shows the robberies, burglaries, and assaults reported across some of the city’s most monied real estate over the last four weeks. In two of the more recent examples, a man was injured and robbed outside a Brentwood hotel early Monday morning, and on Saturday evening, a holiday party in Pacific Palisades was invaded by two armed men who relieved guests of jewelry, iPhones, and an Apple watch.

If the Los Angeles Times account of the Pacific Palisades robbery is to be believed (not necessarily to be taken for granted), the LAPD’s response to the incident left much to be desired. The suspects had fled before police arrived, which is unsurprising, but as of the time the story ran, no detective had collected the security video from the home or even contacted the victims. The suspects, reassured no great effort is being expended to identify and apprehend them, can be expected to hit again.

Also expected to resume their predatory ways are the 14 suspects arrested in connection with a recent series of smash-and-grab robberies in Los Angeles, all of whom were released on little or no bail. Three of the suspects, two adults and a juvenile, were arrested after a car chase into South L.A. The two adults, despite their criminal records, were released without bail.

All of which raises an important question: If police and prosecutors are impotent in addressing surging crime, what is a citizen’s best response when confronted by a robber or home invader? The LAPD, like most police agencies, advocates compliance. “If you are being robbed,” reads the Community Alert Notification, “do not resist the robbery suspects; cooperate and comply with their demands. Be a good witness.” The bulletin also advises against following the suspects. “Leave the job of catching the suspect to the police,” it says.

It's great to get paid.

For most people this is sound advice, even if the police rarely catch the culprits. Few among us are prepared, mentally or physically, to resist an armed attack, and prudence dictates abandoning your valuables rather than risking your life. Recent statistics, however, suggest some Americans may prefer not to meekly surrender to those who would victimize them. The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System recorded 187,585 inquiries for prospective gun purchasers on Black Friday alone, bringing 2021’s total to more than 687,000, slightly behind 2020’s record total.

Obtaining a weapon, though, is the easiest part of preparing for self-defense. Indeed, the presence of a gun can be harmful if one lacks the training, awareness, and mental attitude required to use it when the time comes. A gun in an untrained hand can quickly be turned against its owner. Equally important is knowledge of the laws regarding self-defense. And remember that even the most technically lawful exercise of self-defense can still subject a person to an ordeal in the justice system if the incident takes on political overtones (cf. Rittenhouse, Kyle).

Police officers are often asked when it is permissible to shoot someone in self-defense. The answer is it depends, both on the circumstances and the law in your particular state. As a general rule, deadly force can be used to defend against an attack likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. A stranger approaching while wielding a deadly weapon can in most cases be presumed to be manifesting malign intent, and one need not wait to be shot, stabbed, or clubbed before firing in self-defense.

Some may be surprised that California, with its reliably leftist politics, has a version of the “castle doctrine” on the books. California Penal Code section 198.5, enacted in 1984, grants the presumption of reasonable fear to someone using deadly force against a home intruder. Thus even an unarmed burglar can lawfully be shot by a resident, who need not later prove he was in fear for his safety. Laws in other states differ, so learn the ones where you live before arming yourself for protection. The better firearms training courses include instruction on the laws of self-defense.

No affirmative duty to be a victim.

Outside the home things are trickier and must be examined case by case. The young mother mentioned above, for example, would have been justified in drawing a gun on seeing the two robbers enter her yard, this despite the fact neither of them appeared to be armed. And if they failed to retreat at the sight of her gun, she may have been justified in shooting them. (And how much more satisfying viewing the video would be if she had?)

Keep in mind she was a lone woman with her infant child; a man, certainly one without a child in tow, might not be allowed similar latitude in the same circumstances. This is especially so in Los Angeles, where district attorney George Gascón’s sympathies lie more with criminal suspects than with crime victims.

We are daily presented with evidence that some people across the country are undeterred from their predations by the diminishing prospect of arrest and punishment, leaving to the law-abiding a choice between acquiescence and resistance. If you are among those who have armed themselves, get trained in the safe and effective use of your weapon and prepare mentally for the day you may have to defend yourself or someone else. If you’re going to be in the news, let it be as a defender, not as a victim.