Tyler Perry’s Castle Doctrine

I am not a huge fan of Tyler Perry‘s work. Not a hater, but not a fan. However, I do happen to like Taraji P. Henson, one of Hollywood’s often unsung songbirds. So when Perry cast Henson in the 2009 film-version of his dramedy, “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” I checked it out (well, I waited ’til it came out on DVD). Here’s how MovieMinistry.com recaps the opening scene:

When three orphaned children break into Madea’s house, their world gets turned upside down. Because nobody, and I mean no-body, breaks into Madea’s house. But when Madea discovers that these kids are just trying to feed themselves, she makes a deal with them. She will take them to their aunt, and they will come over and clean her house until they pay for the damage…

Now, where I come from, if somebody “unlawfully and forcibly enters” your house, and if none of the statutory exceptions would apply, then you are “presumed to have…a reasonable belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury to self, family, [or] a member of the household…” Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-611(c). Therefore, you basically get the benefit of the doubt if you respond with deadly force. In keeping with this tradition (affectionately known, of course, as the Castle Doctrine), Madea’s husband tells the humbled home-invaders, “I oughta shank you,” and at one point Madea herself threatens to “choke…out” the eldest of the trio (a 16-year-old girl). Either of those resorts would likely be legal under Tennessee law, assuming they occurred while the threat persisted. But instead, this happens:

I’m at over 300 words and haven’t made a point yet (typical).  The point is: Feed your enemy pretzels and peanut butter. Just kidding; that’s not the point. Okay seriously, the point is this: know the difference between can and should.

Every day in gun circles I hear lots of respectable wisdom from peace-loving, kind-hearted, non-violent folks. But leeching in the dank crevices of law abidance like that crust you wipe away from your ante meridiem eyes are those supposed gun-people who are just itching — and I mean really, desperately, insatiably fiending — for an excuse to blast a ragged hole in a human being. These are the folks whose every modicum of effort first requires a companion to “hold my beer” (or “hold my blunt”) or whatever. Their irksome ilk would indiscriminately unload at the precise nanosecond when the law technically gives the green light. It’s true that cases and statutes tell you what you can (and can’t) legally do. But they’ve got no advice about what you should do in any given circumstance. That question is only answered by your personal morals, your ethics, your conscience, and your God if you have one.

Again, I’m not saying whip out the welcome mat (although other authorities might). Nor am I saying the Castle Doctrine must yield to adolescent or female offenders. I’m simply saying that just because you might be able to legally get away with shooting somebody doesn’t always mean it’s the best course of action to take, all things considered. This could potentially… potentially… tie into my forthcoming thoughts on the Mike Brown controversy, but I’ll get back to that as more facts emerge.

Meanwhile, here’s my WWYD poll. Suppose in the wee hours you awake to the dreaded crash-boom-thud, just as Madea and her husband did in the film. Armed with your sacred Castle Doctrine liberties and handheld cannon-of-choice, you thunder forth in full warrior mode, only to encounter the scene pictured below: three fear-frozen mini-people wielding your precious electronics (ignore the old dude in the background). Do you blast away? The law says you likely have the right to do so. Would you? If your answer is an easy, breezy, “oh, well there’s no imminent jeopardy,” then let me complicate the facts a bit. What if the lighting wasn’t as good, and these intruders were fully silhouetted? What if their hands were obscured or out of view? What if one of them took a reluctant step toward you? What if they all scattered? Keep in mind of course that you would not have all the time in the world to study the scene as you’re doing now from the comfort and safety of wherever this photo graces your monitor or mobile device. With those limitations and your imperative to act, WWYD?


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