Real men wear pink
Jim Dematte leans casually on the mailbox post at his home near Santa Clarita, California, as he talks to a reporter. Dematte is one of several who defied evacuation orders during July’s Sand Fire, which, as of this writing, had burned 36,000 acres and taken a man’s life.
Reporter: What are you doing here?
Dematte: We got the family here, and the animals, and we’re trying just to keep the place safe—mainly for the whole neighborhood, too…..a lot of the people decided to leave, and that was a good move on their part; we decided to stay. We decided it was safe enough for the family, and we’re here just keepin’ an eye on the place.
Repoter: What are you using to defend your home?
Dematte: First of all good sense, common sense, and it doesn’t hurt to have an AR-15….(pats firearm) there. There’s a lot of media now about these horrible weapons of death but, a lot of times, they are weapons that save people too.
Reporter: At this point it’s coming in handy for you and your family, you and your neighborhood.
Dematte: Just protection, that’s all it is, and yes, it is. No sense engaging someone unless they’re going to come and attack. We don’t go after people. Someone wants to come over there, then, different story.
The interview ends, but not before Dematte obliges a pose, showing good finger discipline as he holds his AR.
Comments below the video range from supportive and grateful—along with a bit of good-natured fun poked at his pink shirt—to questioning Dematte’s sanity. Are Dematte’s actions of defying an evacuation and patrolling his property, visibly armed, lawful? Lawful or not, are his actions reasonable?
The same news agency that featured Dematte also covered the topic of evacuations, including a quote from a local sheriff’s office representative saying that evacuation “orders” in that community are really just a recommendation. Not following that recommendation comes with substantial risk, as was tragically proven when one local man was found deceased and charred in his car, having stayed back to locate his dogs.
Demette’s statement to the press indicates he assessed fire danger before deciding to stay. The presence of a reporter and clear conditions at the time of filming indicate his decision to stay was, for the time being, reasonable. But that’s not why you’re reading a gun blog, is it? Let’s get on to the real business–
California Penal Code 197, regarding homicide, appears it would protect Dematte should he be forced to shoot someone in defense of his property. The code protects the commission of homicide, in protection of life and property, in instances where there is manifest and violent intent to commit a felony, and “When necessarily committed in attempting, by lawful ways and means, to apprehend any person for any felony committed, or in lawfully suppressing any riot, or in lawfully keeping and preserving the peace.”
The word “appears” is used intentionally in the previous paragraph. That’s because a courts’ interpretation of the law is going to put a few “buts” in this apparent free rein afforded property owners. The first is in California code 198.5, which states homicide in a residence is only justifiable if the invader has made unlawful AND forcible entry….meaning you better be able to show that you weren’t “welcoming” intruders with open windows or unlocked doors!
This seemingly conflicting language can be resolved, for the most part, by considering a standard taken from case precedent, specifically Graham vs. Connor. Although the case pertains to law enforcement, it is the best guideline for use of force currently available to free society. The standard demands that the use of force (Mr. Demette’s AR-15 in this case) is reasonable as judged by the information available to him at the time, and also necessary, meaning the situation was without options of escape or stopping the action in some less–or non–injurious way.
Demette stated his rationale in the interview, making it clear that he had no intent of pursuing trouble but defending against it. His actions, as viewed through the lens of the news interview, are perfectly lawful as well as reasonable. I must say, the correctly placed trigger finger bolsters that opinion—the best-crafted gun defense can turn disastrous when gun safety is neglected.
As a timely aside; the 30-round magazine in Demette’s AR will become an illegal item in his state on January 01, unless California’s referendum on “Gunmageddon” is successful in repealing its new restrictions. He and other Golden State gun owners will also have to show ID and undergo a background check just to buy ammunition, at least legally. This writer sincerely hopes California's freedom lovers will show up at the polls to overturn this latest creep of infringements upon the Second Amendment. If they don’t, I’ll be happy to give Mr. Demette the name of a good real estate agent in my neighborhood.
What about you? Would you have stayed to protect your property? Or, would you have left the neighborhood? Let us know in the comments. Also, make sure you sign up for Gun Carrier's FREE Newsletter so you never miss a Defensive Gun Use story.