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Can a Doorbell Ring Justify ‘Stand Your Ground’ Shootings?

by Sophia Chen
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It was late in the evening, close to 10 o’clock, when Andrew Lester heard a doorbell ring. He quickly woke up and got a gun because he thought someone was trying to break into his home. When he saw that it was a black man who seemed to be pulling on his front door handle, without asking any questions, Mr. Lester opened fire. He later told the police that he had believed someone was trying to enter his house.

There is a case ongoing concerning Lester shooting 16-year-old Ralph Yarl. According to the police, albeit wrongfully assumed, this serves as a defense for him. Ralph was an honor student who went to the incorrect Kansas City address while trying to pick up his younger siblings. This follows other news of the shooting of Kaylin Gillis by someone who showed increasing rage against trespassers, according to a neighbor report.

Recently a situation happened that made a lot of people very angry. It could bring attention to one of the most popular self-defense laws in America. We call this law the “castle doctrine,” and it basically means you don’t have to run away when someone threatens you in your home. Instead, you are allowed to defend yourself with physical force. A lot of states have either made this into an official law or decided on it through court cases.

Missouri is one of the states that have special laws that allow you to defend yourself from danger even when you are not in your own home.

Missouri’s Laws Regarding the Use of Deadly Force

In 2007, the state of Missouri created a law that allowed people to use deadly force if certain conditions were met. This included using it against someone who tried to get inside an occupied house, apartment, or car. The legislation was backed by the National Rifle Association and was almost unanimously approved by the lawmakers, who were largely from the Republican party. Also, former governor, Matt Blunt (who also belonged to the same party), made sure everyone knew about this new law by travelling around Missouri and making official statements about it.

Missouri law says that people won’t be punished when they use force to protect themselves or their family from attacks at home, in the car, or any other place they have the right to be. This was approved by lawmakers in 2016 even though then-Governor Jay Nixon didn’t like it.

In Missouri, it is legal to use deadly force if needed. Robert Spitzer, a professor who specializes in studying guns and wrote the book “Guns Across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights”, said that their law gives people a lot of room to defend themselves this way.

In the year 2020, an incident happened in Missouri where the married couple Mark and Patricia McCloskey used guns to threaten a group of Black Lives Matter protesters passing by their home. Although they were punished with misdemeanors, the Republican Governor Mike Parson pardoned them.

Last year, there was a law proposal in Missouri that would allow people who shoot someone whilst claiming self-defense to not get punished. It got called the Make Murder Legal Act by someone who did not like it. However, this bill did not pass in the end.

Lester Faces Backlash for Shooting Yarl After Doorbell Ring

On Tuesday, Lester turned himself into the police. The day before, he had been charged for shooting Yarl. It is unknown who is helping him or defending him in court. But according to a document from police, it looks like Lester thought he was in danger when the shooting happened.

Lester said he opened the inside door and saw a tall, black man trying to get in through the outside storm door. He said he was really scared and he fired two shots almost immediately after opening the door.

Yarl told the police that he pressed a doorbell but didn’t open it, then suddenly the man shot him twice in the head and arm. As Yarl tried to run away, the man warned him not to come back.

Experts said on Tuesday that, even though Lester may attempt to use the castle doctrine as a defense, the prosecutors could argue that he did not have a good reason to think that Yarl was trying to break into his house.

It’s not allowed for someone to shoot first and only ask questions later when somebody rings the doorbell, even if it is something that delivery drivers and kids selling Girl Scout cookies do on a daily basis. According to Ari Freilich from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, laws shouldn’t be like this because guns can’t be used carelessly.

“Stand Your Ground Law

In 2012, Florida’s stand your ground law became a big issue when Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American boy, was fatally shot. George Zimmerman, who thought that Martin looked suspicious and called himself a neighborhood watchman, used the law in his defense during the trial and was found innocent.

In the past twenty years, many states have made laws about self-defense and there have been shootings where people used the same type of defense. Different from George Zimmerman’s case, some shooters ended up having a guilty verdict.

Three white men, Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were on trial for the 2020 shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. The three men argued that they chased Arbery (who was Black) because they thought he was a burglar. They also said that Travis raised a gun at Ahmaud hoping to stop him but ended up shooting him as if he was about to fight. In the end, all of them got convicted of murder.

Two days after Yarl was shot, on Saturday, a woman in New York died after a car she was riding in drove into the wrong driveway. The homeowner, Kevin Monahan, 65 years old, came out of his porch and shot twice at her, according to the local sheriff’s office. He has been charged with murder and New York doesn’t have a law that allows someone can shoot because they feel threatened.

A writer called Heather Hollingsworth was involved in the report that came from a city called Mission, Kansas.

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