Tragic shots


Last week in a small community in northern Georgia, a homeowner asserted his right to self-defense. Another man was shot dead.

Justice done? No, it was just another American tragedy in a land where the law increasingly invites such tragedies.

Authorities said Joe Hendrix, 34, thought his victim was an intruder. It was around 4 a.m. and someone had come to his front door, rung the bell, and jiggled the knob.

Although 911 was called, Mr. Hendrix went outside and saw the man, whom he said ignored calls to identity himself and kept coming forward. Mr. Hendrix shot him four times with a Glock pistol.

But this was no intruder: Ronald Westbrook was a former U.S. Air Force officer who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. In his confusion, he had wandered about three miles from his home and had collected mail from people’s mailboxes. He was a danger only to himself.

Of course, it was nighttime and Mr. Hendrix could not have known that the man outside was elderly and suffering from dementia. A stranger at the door at that hour would frighten anyone. But if the resident had stayed inside and waited for police to arrive, this tragedy would not have happened.

Mr. Hendrix had no duty to stay inside under Georgia’s “stand your ground” law, one of nearly two dozen such statutes passed by states. The Ohio General Assembly is considering such a measure.

These laws do not encourage people to retreat to safety before they shoot in self-defense as a last resort. On the contrary, they permit deadly force to be used if homeowners believe they are imminent danger — an easy post-shooting excuse for the trigger-happy. Although a man is dead for no good reason, Mr. Hendrix probably won’t be charged.

This basic idea is why the armed George Zimmerman got away with shooting an unarmed Trayvon Martin in Florida last year — a result that looks more like a travesty in light of Mr. Zimmerman’s subsequent troubles with the law.

It was why police initially hesitated to arrest a white man, Theodore Wafer, who shot to death an unarmed 19-year-old black woman, Renisha McBride, in suburban Detroit early last month. She had come to his door in the early hours, apparently seeking help after a car accident. Mr. Wafer has been charged with second-degree murder.

There is no racial angle to the Georgia shooting; it involved white men. It is the predictably poisonous fruit of a sour tree. A man stood his ground. An innocent man is now in the ground. Expect more such deaths, until America comes to its senses.