Even cops and soldiers say the first time they kill someone is tough, sobering, painful, and sometimes hard to get over. This is as it should be, for as humans we are hopefully conditioned to respect life. So it’s bizarre and confusing to find the media glorifying the “Make My Day Mom” killing of a young intruder.
On the phone with dispatch for over 20 minutes before police arrived, 18-year-old widow Sarah McKinley shot and killed a 24-year-old man who was breaking into her Oklahoma mobile home, but it’s his accomplice who is being charged with murder.
Sarah McKinley, who had married her husband in November of 2011, and had a three month old baby boy named Justin, had just lost her 58 year old husband to lung cancer on Christmas day when on New Years Eve day, she heard someone aggressively knocking on her doors. She grabbed her 12 gauge shot gun and a pistol, put a bottle in her baby’s mouth and called 911.
Transcript from Daily Mail:
DISPATCHER: What’s going on?
SARAH MCKINLEY: There’s a guy at my door. I’ve got some dogs that keep coming up missing. This guy’s up to no good. My husband just passed away. I’m here by myself with my infant baby. Can I please get a dispatch out here immediately?
DISPATCHER: Hang with me a second. Are your doors locked?
SARAH MCKINLEY: Yes, I’ve got two guns in my hands. Is it okay to shoot him if he comes in this door?
DISPATCHER: Well, you have to do whatever you can do to protect yourself. I can’t tell you that you can do that, but you do what you have to do to protect your baby. Is he trying to get in the door?
SARAH MCKINLEY: He just keeps knocking.
DISPATCHER: Okay. Alright. Do you have like an alarm on your car that you can set off with your remote control that might scare him and get him away?
SARAH MCKINLEY: No, I don’t.
DISPATCHER: Alright, that’s okay.(rustling)
Sarah McKinley believes the intruder, Justin Martin, was stalking her. A week after Sarah’s husband’s funeral, Justin stopped by her trailer late in the evening and introduced himself as a neighbor. Sarah McKinley was suspicious.
On New Years Eve, Martin was carrying a 12-inch hunting knife, which McKinley saw in his hand (she thought it was a gun at the time) as he entered her home. It appears that Martin and accomplice Dusty Stewart were breaking in to get McKinley’s husband’s prescription drugs and that they had possibly broken in before.
McKinley won’t face charges over the death of the intruder, but his accomplice will due to a strange twist in the law that allows prosecutors to charge an accomplice with murder if someone dies in the attempted commission of a crime.
The Daily Mail reports:
‘When you’re engaged in a crime such as first-degree burglary and death results from the events of that crime, you’re subject to prosecution for it,’ Assistant District Attorney James Walters told the Oklahoman….
Detective Dan Huff told KOCO-TV that under some circumstances, shooting a person is permissible.
‘You’re allowed to shoot an unauthorized person that is in your home,’ he said. ‘The law provides you the remedy, and sanctions the use of deadly force.’
The Oklahoma Castle Doctrine, otherwise known as the Make My Day law, states you can only shoot an intruder if they have entered your home.
Nowhere in the transcript of the 911 call do we hear her warn the intruder that she is armed and will shoot him. The dispatcher asks her if she has a car alarm she can set off via remote key, but she doesn’t.
Sarah McKinley reports that two of her dogs were recently found dead and her mother tells Newson6.com that Justin Martin stalked Ms. McKinley two years ago at a rodeo.
Blogger Maggiesnotebook reports that McKinley wrote on her Facebook page at one point that she had to shoot one of her dogs who was having a seizure that she thinks resulted from being poisoned. There is a also photo of her holding a gun pointed at a donkey while a person lays sprawled over it, in an apparent act of play.
Just days before the January 8th anniversary of the Tucson massacre in which six people died at the hands of a mentally unstable gunman, Sarah Palin praised the young woman for “fulfilling a purpose of the second amendment” in an email to the National Review. She went on to write, “I’m all in favor of girls with guns who know their purpose.”
Of course, the gun wasn’t McKinley’s (it was her husband’s), and there’s no way of knowing if a person “knows their purpose” when they purchase a firearm or even if they are stable enough to discern the right time to use it. These are the issues that should challenge the notion that anyone should be able to walk in and purchase a firearm like the one used in the Arizona shootings.
But in this case, it’s not that the young mom was wrong for killing to protect her baby and herself, it’s that how we discuss these things matters. Dubbing McKinley the “Make My Day Mom” is hero-worshiping, frighteningly glib and ultimately serves to trivialize the decision to pull the trigger with intent to kill.
I also own a shotgun and would shoot to kill an intruder in my home if I thought it were necessary. But glorifying this and calling it the purpose of the second amendment is disturbing. In point of fact, the purpose of the second amendment was to maintain independent militias to defend the country should its security be threatened. It was a reactionary stance to the framers distrust of a federal army.
The federal courts, in accordance with Supreme Court precedents, have consistently held that there is no individual right to own a gun. In Morton Grove, Illinois, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, “possession of handguns by individuals is not part of the right to keep and bear arms.”
In the 1980 decision in Lewis v. United States, the court majority opinion upheld the rights to deny firearms to felons and noted, “the Court stated, “These legislative restrictions on the use of firearms do not trench upon any constitutionally protected liberties.” The opinion listed voting, the practice of medicine, and even holding office in labor organizations as “activities far more fundamental than the possession of a firearm.”
It’s interesting that the guns rights advocates who claim to be constitutional adherents are fine with voting ID laws that deny a much more fundamental right, as well as disbanding organized labor, while the court ruled that holding office in organized labor (unions) is a fundamental right.
In the same way that gun rights activists want what they perceive as their way of life understood, so to do labor and voting rights activists want those rights respected and honored.
But it’s not just the law that is at issue here. When you chose to take someone’s life, it’s a decision you can’t go back on. It’s a life changing choice.
It would be natural to have second thoughts about it, even under the clearest of circumstances. This is what tells us that we are alive and have a working conscience. It speaks to our compassion and our ability to feel things for other people. After all, the intruder had a mother and a family of his own. Even if he made the decision to break the law and left the shooter no choice, remorse over his death is a human reaction.
The right has glorified this as the perfect example for why we need guns and why guns are the great equalizer. Yes, that is the conclusion if one imagines America as the Wild West where protecting your own was the highest priority because in an uncivilized world, it was necessary. But this is not the only conclusion or dialogue we could be having about this topic.
We could be discussing her referencing this intruder as a stalker and discuss the absolutely horrifying statistics of violence against women in this country. Perhaps shooting stalkers is one way to put an end to that nightmare, but what are the ramifications of that cultural choice? What if a man really is the current boyfriend or had an invitation to come over but the woman shoots him and tells police he was stalking her? I grant you that the odds of this happening are much fewer than the odds of a woman being stalked by an unstable and dangerous person, but the point is that our laws and civilization take all of these factors into account for a reason.
Noting the twenty minutes it look for law enforcement to show up, we could be discussing the impact of cutting budgets for police forces throughout the country. We could be feeling relieved that she and her baby are safe but have the humanity to express regret that another person’s life was taken, and regret that a young woman had to make this choice and now has to live with this for the rest of her life.
Yes, it’s true, some people can kill someone and feel nothing, but most people cannot. No matter how cool our culture tries to make it sound, life is not a Clint Eastwood movie. In real life, if you kill someone on purpose, you have just played God in a sense. Perhaps you feel you were right to do so, but we have to question a culture in which such a brutal act of finality is glorified.
McKinley told the police she knew the intruders were up to no good, but in truth, she didn’t know what they were going to do. No one could know that. She made an assessment based on their actions and she made a choice to escalate force. These are tough choices that cops and troops are trained to make quickly, but the average Jane is not. It might be legal to shoot an intruder, and it might have been the best decision, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to sit well with a person morally or spiritually.
That haunted look we see in our returning troops eyes comes from seeing death as a matter of course. It comes from seeing human life murdered in the name of war. It can lead to debilitating episodes of post traumatic stress syndrome disorder. This is not a goal we should have for our society. Even the life of a “bad guy” is worth respecting and honoring as a human life.
Sometimes we have to take drastic action to protect our families and ourselves, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy and it shouldn’t be glorified or trivialized.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.