Gun Control: A Tale of Two Homicides

The New Year was perhaps an hour old when a road rage incident resulted in unpleasant consequences. The Associated Press reported:

In an apparent case of road rage, a motorist shot a driver to death who threatened him with a baseball bat.1

Justifiable Homicide?

In this incident, the attacker, Tomas Garza, first drove his automobile "aggressively", trying to hit Brian Correa's car. When both drivers stopped at a traffic light, Garza got out of his car and hit Correa's car "several times" with a baseball bat. When Correa told Garza to stop, Garza instead "began toward" Correa, at which point Correa used his handgun to defend himself, killing Garza. The police reported that Correa was licensed to carry concealed.2

San Antonio police spokesman Sergeant Gabe Trevino stated: "It was apparent to us that he was defending himself." There were "several witnesses" to corroborate Correa's story, leading the police to conclude that the shooting was justified.3

Criminal Homicide?

Moises Mendoza of the Express-News appears to have another take on this incident. His chosen title, "Road rage turns fatal", gives the first hint that his article might be biased. If not, perhaps the lead paragraph does:

San Antonio's first violent death of 2008 occurred just an hour after revelers rang in the new year when a motorist shot a driver who threatened him with a baseball bat in an apparent road-rage incident.4 [Emphasis added]

Mendoza does report what the police determined: "Because the shooting appeared to be in self-defense, however, police said they didn't plan to charge Brian Correa..."5 Most of the article is similar to the AP report, until the final two paragraphs:

[Police Sergeant] Trevino said police were concerned about the increase in homicides in 2007 and that one of the department's New Year's resolutions is to reduce that rate.

"The chief would tell you that he was disappointed with our homicide numbers," Trevino said. "We would like to see those numbers decrease. One is too many. But we would like to see those decrease."6 [Emphasis added]

This warranted a request for clarification from the author in the form of an email:

If I remember correctly, the last paragraph is the most important, as it leaves the most lasting impression with the reader. In this case, you seemed to want to insinuate that the shooting was a homicide, based upon Sgt. Trevino's comments...

Earlier in your article, you mention that the police are not classifying this as a homicide, yet your ending implies disbelief as to this finding. Perhaps reading the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook would help? Pages 15-18 discuss the difference between criminal and justifiable homicide. Justifiable homicide is considered "excusable" and is not included in the tally of criminal homicides. This is why the police are not classifying this as a homicide.7

His response:

The police made clear that they believe it is a justifiable homicide which is why that was mentioned at the beginning of the story. While a justifiable homicide is not included in police statistics, it is still considered a "homicide" per the San Antonio medical examiner office and the FBI.8 [Emphasis added]

Back to the Source

Here is what the FBI says about how it gathers the data for its annual crime report:

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program is a nationwide, cooperative statistical effort of more than 17,000 city, university and college, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies voluntarily reporting data on crimes brought to their attention.9 [Emphasis added]

This means that what any law enforcement agency reports ends up part of the FBI tabulations in their annual crime report, and that these agency reports are the only source of this data.

Here is what the FBI says about its handling of criminal and justifiable homicide incidents:

Justifiable homicide - Certain willful killings must be reported as justifiable, or excusable. In the UCR Program, justifiable homicide is defined as and limited to:

  • The killing of a felon by a peace officer in the line of duty.
  • The killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.

Because these killings are determined through law enforcement investigation to be justifiable, they are tabulated separately from murder and nonnegligent manslaughter.10 [Emphasis added]

Contrary to Mr. Mendoza's claim, in order for the FBI to count an incident in its homicide totals, the police must report it as such. Otherwise, it gets recorded in the Justifiable Homicide tables.

Considering that Mr. Mendoza did not attempt to refute the fact that an article's conclusion leaves the most lasting impression on the reader, it is apparent that his semantic dancing with the truth is geared towards insinuating that self-defense is just more criminal violence.

About the Author

Howard Nemerov is a columnist for Texas State Rifle Association's TSRA Sportsman and "unofficial" investigative analyst for NRA News. He can be reached at HNemerov [at sign] Netvista.net.

Endnotes

[1] Associated Press, San Antonio road rage killing deemed self-defense, Houston Chronicle, January 2, 2008. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/5418326.html

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Moises Mendoza, Road rage turns fatal, Express-News, January 2, 2008. http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA010208.1B.FIRSTDEATH.en.67c0.html

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Email sent to Moises Mendoza Thursday, January 3, 2008, 10:28 AM.

8 Email received from Moises Mendoza Thursday, January 03, 2008, 11:12 AM.

9 Federal Bureau of Investigation, About the UCR Program, U.S. Department of Justice, September, 2007. http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2006/about/about_ucr.html

10 Federal Bureau of Investigation, Expanded Homicide Data, U.S. Department of Justice, September, 2007. http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2006/about/about_ucr.html