By Corey Friedman
McNeil is serving a life sentence after a Cobb County jury convicted him of murder in the 2006 shooting death of Brian Epp. Civil rights groups want McNeil’s conviction overturned because they say McNeil shot Epp on his property in self-defense.
A Kennesaw, Ga., city ordinance requires each head of household to own a gun and to have ammunition on hand, though conscientious objectors, convicted felons and those who can’t afford one are exempt.
McNeil’s supporters say his conviction in a self-defense shooting where government orders residents to arm themselves for home protection is hypocritical. They also believe racism played a role. McNeil is black, and the man he killed in his yard was white.
Georgia has a state stand-your-ground law similar to North Carolina’s. Residents have no legal duty to retreat from an intruder and can use deadly force to protect themselves or someone else if they reasonably fear for their life or safety.
Kennesaw city leaders defended the gun ordinance, which they credit with preventing violent crime. The city of 33,000 residents reported no homicides in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Studies show — and we acknowledge — that responsible gun ownership can be a powerful crime deterrent. But cities have no business forcing reticent residents to take up arms. It’s a stunning example of government overreach.
The Second Amendment gives us the right to own and carry firearms, and many Americans choose to do so. Sportsmen tote their rifles and shotguns into the wilderness and emerge with game that will provide a family feast. Men and women keep handguns to protect themselves and their families from an intruder’s attack.
Nowhere in the Constitution, however, is government given authority to require us to own guns. That’s an intrinsically personal decision best left to the individual.
Freedom means the right to make choices about the manner in which we live. When government takes away some choices and nudges us toward others it believes are in our best interest, we lose liberty. We forfeit our freedom of conscience.
By officials’ own admission, the Kennesaw ordinance is a toothless law. Exemptions allow anyone who doesn’t believe in gun ownership to remain unarmed. And no one will be fined for being caught without a firearm.
“There are no penalties if a person doesn’t have a gun,”Kennesaw Police Chief William Westenberger told The Wilson Times last week. “We don’t enforce it. We don’t check on people, and there is no punishment.”
While we’re glad the Georgia city doesn’t have mandatory weapons inspections, bad laws are still a threat to individual liberty as long as they remain on the books. Many Kennesaw residents likely feel undue pressure to purchase guns. And communities always run the risk that outmoded and little-used laws can someday be selectively enforced.
Stand-your-ground laws that allow lawful occupants to shoot and kill intruders who would do them harm are based on the castle doctrine, a common-law principle holding that a person’s home is his castle, and he has a natural right to defend it from attack. We recognize that natural right and support state laws that affirm it.
Whether John McNeil was acting in self-defense in accordance with Georgia law is a matter for the appellate courts to sort out. But observers nationwide will continue to question his conviction in a city that makes its residents own guns for home protection.
[This post originally appeared in The Wilson Times.]
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