The only thing strange about Jerome Ersland’s case is the outcome.
I wrote a couple of blog posts defending the actions of Jerome Ersland back in June of 2009. Constant Readers might recall that Mr. Ersland is the Oklahoma City pharmacist who shot it out with a couple of thugs that spring. He was charged with murder for giving the one he dropped five good-bye shots.
Mr. Ersland—formerly Lt. Colonel Ersland—is now convicted of first-degree manslaughter. He conceivably faces life in prison.
I said it then, and I’ll say it now, in the simplest possible way: THIS IS BULLSHIT!
I heard a big-brain legal common tater saying this morning that the judge will have a great deal of leeway in the sentencing guidelines. I sincerely hope so. Let’s put Mr. Ersland on probation for a couple of years, and send him home to his family.
The incident in the drugstore is caught with disturbing clarity on tape. Two teenaged thugs enter, and one brandishes what I identify as a Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol in the fashion they learned from those gangsta rap videos. Gunfire is exchanged. Ersland’s watch is blown off his wrist by a bullet, and one of the thugs goes down. The other one—the one with the visible firearm—flees, and Ersland rushes to the door behind him. There are two women—a mother and her daughter—in the back of the store and they are screaming, obviously terrified. Ersland returns to the interior of the pharmacy, and either retrieves a second weapon or reloads the one he was packing. The downed robber is slightly off-camera, but was still moving, according to all the witnesses. Ersland gave him five good-bye shots, ending the incident for all intents and purposes.
The dead perpetrator was subsequently found to be unarmed, hence the charges against Mr. Ersland.
I taught combat shooting for a number of years. When prospective students said they only wanted to defend their homes, I advised them to trade their handguns for .12 gauge pump shotguns; the slide being racked is an unmistakable deterrent, and will save the moral anguish of the aftermath, when a life has been taken. The dumbest criminal in God’s creation knows what that sound is, and will unass the area PDQ.
For those who persevered with handguns, I think my teachings were sound.
I was a big fan of Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger when I was a kid. He’d use those silver bullets to shoot the gun out of the bad guy’s hand, and justice would be done without anyone getting killed. In that perfect world of black-and-white TV, that’s a nice way for things to end.
After some initial classroom training—which included the admonition that if you’re not prepared to take a human life, you need to leave now and trade your weapon for a can of pepper spray—I’d break out a basic silhouette target and point to the approximate center. “This is the X-ring. This is dead-center mass. This is what you shoot for. No head shots, no shooting the gun out of their hand. You don’t shoot someone a little bit. You go for this X-ring, and you keep firing until they’re on the ground and not moving, or your weapon is empty. Dead-center mass, and light ‘em up like the Fourth of July. Once they’re down, you reload before approaching.”
Since I taught civilians—normal, decent people to whom the notion of killing ran against every moral precept they’d been taught from childhood—I routinely left out the postscript that you give the fallen adversary a good-bye shot to the head. I also left out the full-security detail that when you’re close enough, you poke them in the eyeball with your gun barrel. A clever, wounded enemy can play dead until your back is turned, but no human being can help flinching when poked in the eye. You learn this stuff later on, in the real world. When Mr. Ersland was Lt. Colonel Ersland, he probably had a competent instructor who taught him all this.
Yes, it’s brutal. When the guns come out, all bets are off. There are lives at stake, and odds are it’s going to be your life against the other guy. There can be no hesitation, no contemplation. You’ll either do it, or you won’t. If you don’t, the other guy wins, and you—and possibly loved ones, innocent bystanders, or military teammates—are dead.
This concept used to be summed up in a single sentence: “Better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.”
I don’t know where they found those jurors in Oklahoma City. Mr. Ersland had robbery victims cowering in the back of the store, and the fallen perpetrator was still moving. His hands were not visible. He may have had a weapon. Hindsight is 20/20; it’s unfortunate the robber was unarmed, but he should not have been a party to a robbery attempt where his buddy was blazing away at an aspirin-peddler. When the guns come out, you’ve bought the ticket, and you’re going to take the ride. It may not turn out the way you expect.
When I lived in Texas in the ‘80s, a Dallas station carried footage of an angry father whose son had been kidnapped and molested by a trusted teacher. In a premeditated act, the father waited in the Baton Rouge airport until the ideal moment, and blew the bastard’s head off with a .44 Magnum on TV. Dan Rather warned us that evening that what followed was not for the faint of heart. The father was sentenced to five years’ probation. Jerome Ersland didn’t premeditate anything. He was counting pills and filling someone’s prescription when these thugs walked in. I would've hung the jury; holding out against conviction no matter what.
I’m not a bloodthirsty psychopath. There is no greater anguish or moral burden than taking a human life. Some people—I want to believe most people—simply cannot do it, no matter what the circumstances. There is no fault or dishonor in this; it’s just likely to have an unfortunate outcome. I’m a simple man, and part of my simple-mindedness is a grudging realization that there may come times in your life when you have to make a stand. Hopefully, for most folks, that’s nothing more dramatic than deciding what kind of topping you want on the pizza, or where to go on vacation.
Conversely, when you’re backed against a wall with a knife at your throat, or staring down the yawning chasm of a gun barrel, there is no time to thoughtfully consider the moral implications of what our parents taught us. If you hesitate to reflect on what God teaches us, you may be meeting the Creator a moment later. Sometimes it’s better to apologize than ask permission.
Please join me in prayer that Mr. Ersland will receive justice at the sentencing hearing. He has a burden to bear for his actions, and he will not carry it lightly. He needs to go home with an admonition: “Don’t do that again!”
What he did was the right thing, but he has to carry that for the rest of his life. That’s enough.