By Josh Schneyer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 15, 1997

Riding Shotgun - Cajun Style

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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Josh Schneyer

You may recall the case of the New York City subway shooter who came to his own legal defense at trial. The accused killer called a survivor of the shooting spree to the witness stand and asked, "Do you see the man who shot you in this courtroom?"

"Of course I do," the witness lashed out, "It was you, you bastard!"

Not surprisingly, that shooter is doing life upstate.

Another trial in Louisiana, equally odd, contributed to the recent passage of a controversial "license to kill" bill in that state (we'll get to that). In this trial, a shooting "victim" sought recompense from his attacker for hospital bills as well as physical and mental anguish endured.

The "victim" was unarmed when the defendant shot him. So why the quotation marks around victim? Because he was shot during an attempt to carjack the defendant's vehicle. The plaintiff claimed he didn't realize he would be up against a gun when he wrestled his way into the defendant's car.

The plaintiff prevailed and was awarded damages.

The trial roused public disgust, and an especially fiery reaction from the Good Ol' Boys. For gun lobbyists, the defendant became a martyr to solid marksmanship. Then, in the wake of the verdict, Miss Louisiana 1997, a first runner-up at the Miss America pageant, fell victim to a carjacking outside of her New Orleans home. Although she was not hurt, the assailant made off with her car, as well as (get this!) her runner-up crown. The Good Ol' Boys screamed bloody murder. Especially since Miss Louisiana is a prime specimen of Southern womanhood: The white kind.

The worried citizens of New Orleans, where carjackings are common, began to pressure local lawmakers. They called for a bill to legitimize the use of deadly force against carjackers, and their pleas were answered. On August 15th, 1997, the so-called "shoot the carjacker" law took effect.

Under the law, as soon as a would-be carjacker forces his way into your vehicle, you can pop a cap in his ass. Shoot to kill, or just maim if you're feeling philanthropic. The hunt is on in Creole country. You can hear the shots, even over all that jazz. "Riding shotgun" is now state sanctioned.

This legislation is a notable victory for the "guns yes-crime no" bumpkins. They assert that, "an armed society is a polite society." They wax poetic: "The best type of gun control is hittin' the bulls-eye every time!" They rally: "Bearin' arms is my gawd-given right as a Merican!"

Now, before we Yankees jump onto the well-armed bandwagon and begin lobbying for a "shoot the carjacker" bill in Arizona, let's examine the legal and ethical aspects of the issue.

Arizona law posits the inalienable right to protect private property. That means you're not expected to grin and bear it when someone robs you. However, this right has its limits. In Arizona, it is illegal to use deadly force, even against an intruder, unless confronted with a deadly weapon. The consensus, a good one, is that loss of property is not tantamount to loss of life.

In most Southern states, the Castle Doctrine, or "shoot the burglar" law prevails, warranting the use of deadly force against a house intruder, even if the intruder bares no weapon. Recall the case of the Japanese exchange student who was shot in Louisiana when he entered the grounds of a house where he believed his friends were throwing a party. Despite international pressure, his killer was not charged with murder.

In any event, not since the days of hanging horse thieves has American law ordained killing in defense of your Mustang, or your '79 Ford Pinto for that matter. In light of the new law, it would seem that a human life, however wayward, is worth less than a vehicle. In Cajun terms, le car is holier than la vie.

Getting carjacked is indeed dangerous, and the law may be born of good intentions, but the road to Hell is paved with these. We can anticipate rampant trigger-happiness, culminating in the following headlines from Louisiana:


Laws like this one threaten to make the Big Easy into a greater free-for-all than it already is. That is the most daunting prospect of all. Already, the crime rate is alarming, race relations are abysmal, cops are corrupt and the po' boys get mo' po' every day.

I drove into New Orleans for the first time on August 15th, the day the carjacking law took effect. A lost Yankee, I took the wrong exit and was deposited into a sketchy, inner-city neighborhood. It was night. While stopped at an intersection, a group of adolescents approached the car. I ran the red light out of fear.

Perhaps, had I been packing heat, I would have stuck around to see how this predicament played itself out. Perhaps I could have been the first in Louisiana history to act within the guidelines of the "shoot the carjacker" law. As things stand, however, I am glad to have avoided that fame.

The next day's headlines reported: THREE KILLED ON FIRST NIGHT OF "CARJACKER LAW" VALIDITY. The news gave me that sinking feeling so familiar to the inhabitants of New Orleans.

Miss Louisiana has stated that she plans to drive armed from now on. The next time you go to a pawn shop, keep your eyes peeled for that runner-up crown of hers. She would kill to get it back.

Josh Schneyer is a non-degree seeking graduate student.


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