This editorial first appeared in The Dallas Morning News. Guest editorials don’t necessarily reflect the Denton Record-Chronicle’s opinions.
Since it is now becoming an issue, we’d like to say a few words about Atatiana Jefferson’s gun.
She is, of course, the 28-year-old African-American woman shot to death by a police officer in Fort Worth in the predawn hours of Oct. 12. She was at home and playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew at the time.
According to statements her nephew made to police and that police have since made public, Atatiana Jefferson seems to have taken a pistol out of her purse before looking out a window. We can surmise that she either heard or saw something that made her believe there might have been an intruder in the backyard and, worried for her safety and the safety of her nephew, she appeared to decide it was appropriate to arm herself until she ascertained what was going on.
We now know that what was going on was then-Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean had responded to a call from a neighbor asking for the police to check on the house. The neighbor had seen a door ajar and called a non-emergency number. Dean arrived and then entered the backyard. Body cam footage reveals what happened next. He appears to have seen Jefferson, shouted for her to show her hands and then fired his service weapon.
Some might argue that the cop saw a gun and therefore that should partially explain his actions. We see it differently. As supporters of the Second Amendment and the individual right to self defense (within reason), we support Jefferson’s right and decision to have a gun (for which she reportedly had a license) and any decision to arm herself as she checked the backyard.
America is unique in that, here, law-abiding citizens are afforded rights of self-defense, of protecting ourselves in recognition that the authorities cannot always stand between those with evil intentions and innocent lives. In most cases, especially in states such as Texas that have deliberately enacted laws to strengthen the individual right of self defense, the police factor in the fact that someone they encounter may legally have a gun. This is especially true when approaching a residence, where the law and common sense dictate that people have the right to affirmatively drive off a would-be attacker.
After this shooting, what we’d like to see is organizations such as the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights organizations speak out in favor of Jefferson’s rights.
And by all appearances, Atatiana Jefferson was well within her rights. Officials have said that the fact she had a gun is irrelevant. We agree, partially. We agree that the fact that she had a gun does not justify how this incident apparently played out. But we’d take the next step, too. The fact that she had a right and could very well have legally had a gun placed a burden on any responding officer to approach the house in the middle of the night with the forethought that someone in the house might just shoot them unless the police clearly identified themselves first.
As this case develops, we’ll likely learn more about what happened. And Dean has the right to and will have a fair trial that airs the relevant facts. But it’s not too early to say Jefferson did not have an obligation of deference to an unidentified person skulking around her backyard. There was, however, an obligation of deference. In this case, it was Dean who had an obligation to be deferential to Atatiana Jefferson’s rights.