Ask A Texan: So, About That Gun Thing

Dear Ask A Texan,

Remember Joe Horn? In 2007 he looked out his window and saw someone robbing his neighbor’s house (nobody was home, property loss only, there was no threat of bodily harm to anyone until Joe Horn stepped in).  He called the police.  Partway through the call, he announced he was going to go out and shoot the robbers.  Again, there was no threat to any person up until that point.

The police told him to hold tight, police were on their way.  Joe Horn was unswayed:  he was gonna go out and shoot these guys that were robbing his neighbor. So he left his house, confronted them, and they stepped onto this property.  He shot and killed two men with a shotgun which he had cocked while still indoors, safe, and on the phone with the police who assured him they were on their way.

Under the Texas “castle law” it seemed somewhat clear that he was, strictly speaking, within his rights since they were on his property.  He was not brought to trial.  The guys he killed, well, they’re not available to protest about what their rights ought to be, on account of they’re dead.

To my non-Texan (specifically: Californian) mind, this was appalling: really?  In Texas you can tell the police you are going to go out and shotgun someone who is not any immediate threat to anyone, and then go cause a situation that puts them technically in shotgunning territory (which they were not in before), and not even go to trial over it?  REALLY?

But I went and read the comments on the news stories in the Houston Chronicle, and they were very predominantly on Joe’s side:  way to go, Joe; or, good for you, someone has to stand up and protect us good citizens; or I wish you were _my_ neighbor, Joe. Or, really often:  those guys were from south of the border anyway, and illegal, so they had a killing coming.  Go, Joe.

Really, Ask a Texan?  REALLY?  Is this how a lot of Texans think?  That if you see a crime, and especially if it’s being committed by people of somewhat brownish skin-coloration, that you are doing the right thing by volunteering your services to go out and provoke a situation that lets you kill them?



Still Deeply Disturbed Years Later in a Place not Texas

Dear Deeply Disturbed,

I fear I am not going to be much comfort to you. Let’s be real: the State of Texas last week went up against international law, as well as the recommendation of the U.S. federal government, and went ahead and executed a Mexican national who had not been given access to legal aid from his consulate. Humberto Leal, Jr. had been convicted of the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, which nobody disputes is a heinous and evil thing to do, but also did not get the defense he was entitled to, by anyone’s reckoning except Texas conservatives, who you often get the feeling believe we have a U.S. Vengeance System and not a U.S. Justice System.

We’ve written before on Ask A Texan about Texas pride. As beautiful as Texas pride is, however, it has a dark side, and this is it. Texas is big, Texas is bold, and Texas kind of thinks it is above the law in some ways. For example, Texas thinks it knows better than pregnant women, because Texas believes pregnant women don’t realize they’re pregnant when they’re seeking abortions. But anyway, let’s get on to your question about Joe Horn.

I actually didn’t know about Joe Horn, or didn’t remember it as well as you if I did. So I read the Wikipedia page and now I am a super expert. My main takeaway, besides reading the script of that 911 call where Joe Horn says he’s gonna go kill some motherfuckers is that Glenn Beck is apparently on Horn’s side, so just ugh, everything is awful. One of the things specifically that is awful is internet commenting, which you’ve learned and which we already know, brings out the worst in people’s latent (or obvious) sexism, racism, whatever. So yes, there are Texans who believe Messicans and other Brown People need to go back to Messico or Wherever. There are so many of them, in fact, that Debbie “Terror Babies” Riddle is a public freaking servant in this state.

So, to answer your (repeated) question: Yes, REALLY. Really really, you can just shoot some people if they come into your yard, especially if they’re brown. Really. No problemo. Joe Horn proved it. And yes, REALLY, a lot of Texans think this is totally cool and in fact probably think Castle Doctrine doesn’t go far enough, like for example the folks in the Texas Minutemen Militia who consider their castle to be Texas, all of it, and really don’t think twice about playing po-lice with people crossing the border. And yes, REALLY, Texas just ok’d it for guns to be carried on college campuses, even though it’s ACTUAL PROVEN SCIENCE that eyewitness testimony sucks sweaty taint and people can’t really be relied upon to give accurate descriptions of criminals and so probably putting a bunch of guns in the hands of 21-year-old wannabe vigilantes on college campuses is a terrible idea but whatever. If you believe you’re entitled to carry around a deadly weapon for funsy cowboy playtime, it’s not really an intellectual leap for you to believe that literally every square foot of Texas is your personal domain.

If it’s any comfort, know that it horrifies this Texan that Joe Horn shot a couple of unarmed criminals (while they were RUNNING AWAY from him) with the official blessing of the State of Texas. And I do know there are many Texans, native and transplanted, who, like me, were not raised in a gun culture and who think less shooting by everybody at everybody, including police, military and civilians with grudges, is the way to go.

About andrea grimes

Andrea is a journalist living in Austin, TX. She has a master's degree in anthropology and did her thesis work on gender and stand-up comedy. Seriously. Also, she has a bunch of cats. Three of them. Is three a bunch? Discuss.
This entry was posted in ask a texan, crime, death penalty, guns, legal issues, race. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Ask A Texan: So, About That Gun Thing

  1. Allison says:

    I was raised in a gun culture (if by gun culture you mean my parents own a ton of guns, I grew up eating a lot of meat from animals my dad killed, and if you couldn’t name Cooper’s Rules fast enough he’d do that “I’m not mad, just disappointed” sigh and lecture you), and I think that shit is awful too.

    As to people saying because they’re immigrants or Mexicans they deserved it: I think that’s part of the problem with people hearing that say, Cameron Todd Willingham almost certainly didn’t set that fire, or Cory Maye didn’t know that guy was a cop: it’s a Just World Hypothesis problem. If you admit that Joe Horn shot those guys on the flimsiest of pretexts, then you have to admit that we live in a world where that shit happens, and who wants to live in that world?

  2. NJCioffi says:

    I’m pretty sure that Castle Doctrine (in Texas or anywhere else) does not state that you can just shoot any-old-person for any-old-reason, so long as they are on your property. In fact, I’m pretty sure that, technically speaking, after shooting some dudes, armed or not, you still need to justify your actions or face criminal penalties.

    It seems to me that this is not actually a case of Castle-Doctrine-giving-Texans-the-right-to-shoot-any-old-motherfucker-within-shotgun-range so much as it is a case of the responding officers/local prosecutors giving Dude a pass. They could have, and should have prosecuted him for 1st degree murder.

    • To be fair, the dude did face a grand jury, but they declined to indict. So, prosecutors did decide to pursue the case, but Horn’s peers felt like he was justified in his actions. Which to me still says: yeah, you kind of can just shoot anybody on your property some of the time.

  3. Travis Catsull says:

    Pretty crazy. For some reason I missed out on this story, but I’ll chime in.

    I was born and raised in Texas where my Uncles and Father keep personal arsenals and I’m certain they’d side with Joe Horn. I did some research and it seems Joe Horn was “afraid for his life” and they were on his property. So obviously he has every right to shoot them. Doesn’t really make it right, but it’s hard to say how you would personally react in that situation. Not to mention, a police witness says one of the burglars actually ran at Joe Horn, “one of the suspects ran towards Joe Horn before he angled away from him toward the street when he was shot in the back.”

    So a big white man in a Tommy Bahama shirt is standing there with a shotgun. He says in a thick country drawl, “Dontcha move now. Or I’ze a gonna go to shootin’.” And then you decide to run at him. Smart move. We’re crossing over into survival of the fittest here and you just got taken out by a former 7-11 clerk. Kinda surprised they weren’t stealing hits of freon from the AC unit outside instead of jewels.

    I don’t feel sorry for the guys who got shot and due to time constraints I’m going with the ” the world is better off wo/ them and we’re overpopulating this place anyhow” theory. While Joe Horn is kind of embarrassing, it’s just part of Texas.

    Is property worth killing someone over? No, but don’t put people in the position to have to decide that. A guy in jail got beat down by 6 guys with socks full of dominoes for stealing someone’s Honey Bun. You think someone won’t shoot you over a B&E? Where the fuck you been?

    At the end of the day it’s this: Two lifelong criminals got shot down in the middle of yet another crime and the guy who shot them wasn’t found guilty of murder. Kind of hard to find a problem with this.

  4. That Disturbed Guy says:

    Thanks, Andrea, for that thoughtful writeup. (I followed the news on this as it happened, back when it happened, and yes, the Wikipedia summary seems pretty good and is adequate for this discussion.)
    I remain appalled by the placid certainty expressed by some that since the people shot had committed a crime, and since the shooter had taken himself from a position of safety to a position where a few steps in his direction could be interpreted as a threat, then killing is all right and so is dispensing with a trial for either the burglars or their killer.
    So if I had a followup Ask A Texan question, it might be this: if people engaged in burglary who step onto your land don’t have the right to a trial, and people who shoot said people have the right not to go to trial, then does this gut-level response to the Obviously Unjust (shoot ’em!) and the Obviously Just (celebrate ’em!) wholly permeate Texas life? Or does it just seem that way to us outsiders because we hear only the newsworthy examples?

    • I would not say ideas about Obviously Unjust/Obviously Just “wholly permeates” Texas life. I would say it does particularly permeate the lives of people of a certain political and privilege bent, who feel threatened by, say, the increasing Latina/o-ization of Texas or the belief (see: Perry, Rick and his Prayer Party) that Protestant and Evangelical Christians are a persecuted and marginalized group. I think there are everywhere and always people who like Things The Way They Are and who believe in a black and white world. But, because Texas is becoming so racially diverse, I think it’s fair to say that it won’t be long before most Texans probably won’t get on board with the idea that, for example, these brown dudes were committing a crime so the white guy had a right to shoot them no matter what, because most Texans are gonna be brown people who don’t really appreciate the idea that brown people = criminals.

      But this does go back to another Ask A Texan I answered about who makes the news: … mainstream newspeople (and for that matter, a lot of smug, coastal supposedly progressive journalists) don’t deal in nuance. They like their Texans big and armed, so those are the Texans they cover.

  5. Brittanie says:

    Houston Chronicle commentors are lowest common denominator of Texas citizens. They do not represent a consensus.

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