A Brief Meditation on Deadly Force (and the Internet)

I have become increasingly annoyed by what I am seeing as a more and more common reaction to a righteous shooting these days.  I suppose it’s to be expected given the fact that the Internet is now bringing together two populations that previously would not have had much chance to mix it up with one another.  But you can set your watch by the time line of these things:
* Shooting occurs
* Newspaper publishes online article and/or blogger posts about it
* Comments come in from pro self-defense citizens (“One more criminal off the streets,” etc)
* Outraged friends and family of the dead perpetrator find the article through Google or other search engine
* Friends and family post:
    – He was such a good kid, he couldn’t have done this
    – No one has the right to kill someone else
    – People are hearing the whole story, he was set up
    – What was the victim doing with a gun?  Was he some kind of criminal?
* Pro self-defense people respond
* Lather, rinse, repeat…

The latest incident can be seen in the comments at Beyond Right Field concerning this incident.

An 18-year-old Fort Worth man killed Tuesday afternoon inside a north Fort Worth apartment had apparently forced his way inside, armed with an aluminum bat, when he was shot by one of the apartment’s residents, investigators said.

Derek Splawn, a student in the Keller school district, had been upset with the apartment’s 18-year-old resident and had reportedly threatened in an earlier telephone conversation “that he was tired of this and he was going to come over there,” homicide Detective Curt Brannan said.

Around 4 p.m. Tuesday, police said, Splawn made good on his word and had a friend drive him to the Watercolor apartments in the 8600 block of Spring Tree Lane, near Beach Street and North Tarrant Parkway. As the friend waited in the car, Brannan said, Splawn first pounded on the apartment’s patio door, shouting for the 18-year-old resident to come out, before beating on the apartment’s front door.

Though the resident did not emerge, Brannan said, Splawn was able to force his way inside the apartment after the resident’s roommate opened the front door to peek out and saw Splawn standing there with the bat.

“Before he could get the door shut, the man [Splawn] pushed the door open and had taken several steps inside the doorway in the direction of the [18-year-old],” Brannan said.

Brannan said the 18-year-old, in turn, picked up a shotgun he kept in the home and fired once, striking Splawn in the face.

Provided the facts are as stated, this seems pretty open-and-shut.  A hothead attempts to attack a rival with a deadly weapon and is killed in the act.  I will grant that the media often gets a lot wrong, but most of the article seems to be direct quotes from the Detective working the case.  So, unless and until someone can present credible evidence that something in the above is materially incorrect, I will go with the assumption that the facts as given are correct.

I almost got sucked into this vortex, but this comment made me realize that there’s probably no hope of meaningful communication between the two sides:

If you came up to me with a bat,And i had a shot gun
who do you think would win?
I dont care what you say you cannot justify shooting someone in the face with a shotgun because he had a bat.
Mabey you could call it self-defence if he shot him in the leg.
But no,Hes just needed an excuse to kill derek.
I knew derek very personally and i knew sam as well,And i can tell you that sam didnt give a crap whether derek had that bat or not
He still would have shot him
but now no justice is coming and thats the hardest part about it.

My first thought is that I wouldn’t be stupid enough to take on someone who had a gun if I had a baseball bat and I am certainly not going to be bursting into anyone’s apartment anytime soon.  Finally, shooting people in the leg is what people do in stupid movies.  In real life you shoot to stop the threat. 

It finally dawned on me, though (after I responded that I most certainly could justify the shooting) that this commenter really doesn’t grok the idea that a baseball bat can be a deadly weapon and that you have the right to use deadly force to defend yourself against someone with a bat.  It’s almost like he’s looking for some kind of “fair fight,” which would be stupid beyond belief.  Am I supposed to just stand there and let someone hit me with a bat because a gun is supposedly unfair or something?  Deadly force is deadly force, and a baseball bat can certainly constitute deadly force in some circumstances.

But it’s sometimes difficult for me to remember that your average person hasn’t contemplated these sorts of things, and that goes especially so for your average teenager.  However, it’s exactly the sort of thing that you must confront if you choose to carry a gun or to keep one at home for defense.  You must have a passing familiarity with the law on deadly force as well as an understanding of what “deadly force” means. 

I’m not a lawyer, so don’t take this as legal advice, but a quick reading of the above two links to the Penal Code indicates to me that I don’t have to let the attacker get a hit in, nor do I have to worry too much about the instrumentality he or she is using provided that I reasonably believe that it’s capable of inflicting death or great bodily injury on me and that the person is intending to do so right now.  It occurs to me that while it was designed around knives, the lessons learned from the Tueller Drill would seem appropriate to someone armed with a bat as well.  Perhaps even more so, because I would fear that one hit from an aluminum bat could leave me unconscious and at the mercy of the attacker, while I might be able to still respond after the first knife thrust.

I suppose this all might seem a bit blood-thirsty or dark to someone who hasn’t considered the topic much before.  But the average gun owner is not sitting around cackling with glee at the thought of killing someone.  It should be noted that we do not shoot to kill, but to stop a threat.  If the perpetrator dies as a result, the fault lies with the perpetrator for initiating deadly force against us.


  1. You are dealing with kids… I’m guessing the concepts of “deadly force” and “forced entry” in legal terms are not something they have considered, until now.  Interesting story, thanks for posting.

  2. Kevin White says:

    One of the commenters (“a parent”) asks “What happened to settling arguments with a fist fight?”

    But Derek is the one who decided a baseball bat (as opposed to fists) was appropriate—and decided pushing his way in uninvited was appropriate.

    Clear cut.

  3. Eric Splawn says:

    I’m the eldest brother of Derek Ryan Splawn, the teenager who was shot in Watercolor apartments in the 8600 block of Spring Tree Lane, near Beach Street and North Tarrant Parkway, across from Fossil Ridge High School. Since the night of my younger brother’s death, I have been reading a lot of articles and opinions on the on going investigation by the Ft. Worth Police Department. Let me first off start by saying that I believe in the second amendment and that I’m a responsible gun owner. With that being said, let get down to business. Sam Kimling, the young man who shot my brother was a known drug dealer. He shared an apartment with Roman, another known drug dealer. I find it interesting that Sam was living in an expensive apartment when his parents live near by. He also keeps very interesting company. For my brother’s actions, I’m not making excuses for him. He was wrong for doing what he did. It did not matter that Sam was heard making a death threat to Derek over the phone by two other people in his truck that day. If someone is threatening to hurt you with a baseball bat and you’re behind a locked door, is the threat imminent? Why did the young men not call the police, there was a Ft. Worth Police Station not even a mile down the road. Yet, Sam’s roommate decided to open the door knowing Derek wanted in and would enter. Sam Kimling, was not alone in the apartment. You can’t tell me that someone did have a bright idea to call the Police. Another thing that I find interesting is that the youth was so quick to shoot and not even attempt to let him know that he had a firearm present or if he would have simple stand at a safe distance with shotgun pointed at him and give some warnings before firing. I’m sure this last sentence pissed off several gun owners but oh well. I’m not on here to make friends or enemies. I know for a fact that not all of the facts were printed in the article by the star-telegram. Several of members of my family including myself are in law enforcement in Texas and in various states. We know that the FTWPD is going to show all the cards. This investigation is still on going and is not open and shut as some believe. Some more food for thought is that roommates are under DEA investigation for the drug dealing. So it seems that maybe Sam and Roman are not that innocent after all. Like I said, I know that Derek handled the situation wrong but the way it was ended could have been avoided. So before you go jump on the Sam Kimling was acting in self defense wagon, do your homework.

  4. Unless it can be shown that the shooter was actively involved in some sort of illegal activity at the time of the shooting, I fail to see how his drug dealing is an issue.  Are we now saying that drug dealers have no right of self defense?

    As always, I remain interested in any relevant facts that might present themselves, but at present all I’ve seen are people who are personally involved who are telling me that “there’s more to the story.”

    If there is, then let’s get those facts put out by a reputable, non-involved, party and then we’ll see if they’re really relevant.

  5. Eric Splawn says:

    Once again you still have not done your homework. Well then lets look at some of the facts that can be proved. Sam Kimling was heard by two people threating Derek’s life a couple of hours before his death. That is fact and can be proven by Ft. Worth Police Department through eyewitness accounts and cell phone records. That rules out SUBCHAPTER C PROTECTION OF PERSONS
    Sec. 9.31. Self-Defense of Texas Penal Code that Sam Kimling was acting in self-defense because under sec. A-2 of 9.31 which states actor did not provoke the person against whom the force was used and sec. B-1 of 9.31 which states in response to verbal provocation alone. So that is just one of many relavent facts in this case. I also do not believe drug dealers should have firearms of any kind or have a right to defend themselves from law enforecement or people tired of them filling our streets with poison. The DEA has program called Project Safe Neighborhoods that has been instrumental in removing armed drug dealers from the streets. The stakes are higher when violators are armed and will continue to aggressively prosecute drug dealers who carry or possess weapons. So, I think the Federal Government would not agree with known drug dealers having any fireams much less have the right to use a firearm to defend themselves with them.

  6. Where can one find these records that you accuse me of not accessing?  (i.e. homework)

    As for drug dealers and guns, has Kimling actually been convicted of a drug offense, thereby making him a prohibited person?  Or is this simply hearsay?

    Obviously, you and I are going to disagree on this, so perhaps there is nothing to be gained by further conversation.  Provided Kimling is not a prohibited person, and the provocation was not immediate, then I would tend to continue to say that this is a justified shooting.  Not to say that it’s one that we would want to publish as an example to the world of armed self-defense, but even bad people may deserve to protect themselves if the circumstances are right.