Wrongful Death Suit Betrays Public's Ignorance Of Guns

Sometimes, good people get shot and killed. It’s awful when it happens, but sometimes it’s understandable.

It’s never easy to hear, but a lot of people really don’t know what the hell they’re doing when it comes to firearms. That’s never a good thing, but it’s especially problematic when someone acts according to what the public thinks someone with a gun should do rather than what they should actually be doing.

That can turn deadly. In fact, one case has led to a wrongful death lawsuit.

The family of David McAtee, who was killed by a National Guard member on June 1, is suing Louisville Metro police officers and Kentucky National Guard members who were on the scene that night. A complaint filed Monday in Jefferson County Circuit Court alleges wrongful death and excessive force and seeks unspecified monetary damages as well as a jury trial.

Shortly after arriving at the intersection of 26th Street and Broadway shortly after midnight on June 1, police, supported by Guard members, fired pepper balls to disperse a peaceful crowd, then switched to firing live rounds. This was the fourth consecutive night of protests over the police killing of Breonna Taylor, and the city was under a curfew. Officials said police and Guard members fired gunshots in response to a shot fired by McAtee from the doorway of his restaurant, Yaya’s BBQ, where he also lived.

But attorney Steve Romines, who is representing McAtee’s mother Odessa Riley and cousin Machelle McAtee in the wrongful death suit, said McAtee would not have knowingly shot at police because he considered many of them to be friends. In the complaint, Romines wrote police encouraged McAtee to obtain a pistol for self-defense.

Romines said McAtee may have fired his gun as a warning. In the complaint, he said that just before McAtee “looked out his restaurant door and raised his arm in the air,” defendants fired pepper balls toward the door, several of which struck his niece.

And there’s the problem.

Now, I get that this is just speculation by Romines, but it seems reasonable. A reportedly good man, friendly with the police, gets shot after supposedly firing at police? Yeah, the idea of firing a warning shot isn’t implausible.

It doesn’t matter, though.

See, there’s this public perception that warning shots are something people should do. They’re not. By and large, if you’re justified in firing your weapon at all, you’re justified in shooting the person you would be trying to warn. “Warning shots” in any other circumstance tends to be called “aggravated assault.”

If McAtee fired a warning shot, at that point he became a hostile target. If someone’s firing in my general direction, I’m not going to calculated their point of aim before returning fire. I’m going to consider them a threat to my life and limb.

The problem, though, is that people still believe this is something that should be done. Hell, even presidential candidates have advocated for this nonsense.

Look, let me tell you here and now. If you think warning shots are a thing, don’t do it. Just don’t.