carrying a gun is abnormal and misguided

Via Clayton Cramer, I read this account of the self defense shooting of a mentally ill arsonist who had previously served time for dousing his mother's day care center with gasoline and setting it on fire:

A 25-year-old man who was fatally shot while attacking a stranger Saturday at Westlake Plaza had previously served time in prison for setting fire to a day-care center his mother operated out of her Phinney Ridge home.

Daniel Culotti was shot shortly after 11 a.m. by a 52-year-old man he was assaulting in an unprovoked attack, according to Seattle police. The victim of the assault was carrying a handgun and had a concealed-weapons permit, police said.

In July 2001, Culotti had attacked his mother, Melinda Culotti, inside the family's former residence on Palatine Avenue North near Woodland Park Zoo. He later returned and doused the floors inside the house with gasoline, setting the house on fire.

For that, the man served nine months and was placed on probation. And he's been arrested three times since then for "violating the conditions of his release."

On the last day in the life of this obviously dangerous man, he was randomly assaulting passers-by until he picked the wrong victim -- an older man who was legally carrying a gun:

According to Seattle police, a woman called 911 at 11:08 a.m. Saturday to report that a man was acting erratically, yelling at passers-by and randomly assaulting strangers near Boren Avenue and Pine Street. Officers sent to the scene couldn't find the caller, the man or any victims, police spokeswoman Debra Brown said.

Twenty-three minutes later, police dispatchers radioed that shots had been fired at Fifth Avenue and Pine Street, she said. Moments earlier, witnesses told police, a man in his 20s apparently attacked the 52-year-old man, punching and kicking him until he fell to the sidewalk. The older man pulled out a .357-caliber Ruger revolver and fired one round, striking the man in the abdomen.

The older man "was not winning the fight" - the other man "just starts attacking him, he's on the ground and a shot is fired," Brown said, describing witnesses' accounts.

Cramer argues that what the armed man did was quite rational:
Once you are on the ground, it is hard to run, and hard to protect yourself. The victim did what I think any rational person would have done: he drew his handgun and fired, killing Culotti.
Not only do I agree, this case is one of the best arguments I have seen for concealed carry. The legal system and the police simply cannot keep society safe from dangerous psychotics. If a conviction for arson only gets them off the street for nine months, then I think it's reasonable to conclude that law abiding citizens are the only force that can possibly stop them.

The dead arsonist's uncle has a very different point of view, however. In an op ed, he calls the armed citizen "not normal" and "misguided," and argues that his nephew was in no way at fault:

Put aside the fact that Danny was a beautiful, intelligent child who became schizophrenic at age 18 through no fault of his own; then ask how you would respond to someone attacking you with his fists.

Most normal people would respond by instinctively running or using their hands to defend themselves.

However, the shooter was not what we would think of as normal -- he was carrying a gun and his immediate instinct was to shoot his attacker.

Many "normal" people are capable of killing another person in a brief moment of extreme anger, but this is uncommon because most of us do not carry lethal weapons and our bodies are not killing machines -- a .357-caliber Magnum is.

Schizophrenia, amazingly, affects one of a hundred people. Its major symptom is hearing voices, often telling the person to perform abnormal acts. Its cause is not understood, but it can strike anyone and is one of the worst scourges of modern society.

There is no doubt that Danny acted erratically that day, but he did have a diagnosed mental illness.

I am certain he would admit that what he did was wrong, if he were alive, but he was taken from us by a misguided man with a gun.

Danny "acted erratically" but the citizen acted abnormally? How might he describe dousing day care centers with gasoline and setting them on fire? Uncalled for behavior?

But for a moment let's look at Mr. Culotti's argument. Carrying a gun is not normal. What makes it abnormal? I don't know what the percentages are, but let's assume that there are about as many armed, concealed-carry permit holders as there are Jewish citizens, or even gay citizens. Say, somewhere between one and ten percent of the American population. 39% of the population owns a gun, and I'm sure a much smaller percentage carry concealed. (I'm guessing here, but anyone who knows, feel free to jump in and comment.)

Is normality based on percentages? Mr. Culotti says that "most of us do not carry lethal weapons," and he is doubtless correct. But I want to know what normal means.

Here's Merriam Webster:

2 a : according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle b : conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern
3 : occurring naturally
4 a : of, relating to, or characterized by average intelligence or development b : free from mental disorder : SANE
None of these really state whether behavior that occurs regularly in a minority of cases is normal.

Police officers carry guns, yet there are fewer of them than there are concealed carry permit holders. Using the numerical calculation offered by Mr. Culotti, police officers are even less "normal" than the man who fired a shot in self defense. (Whether a police officer -- especially an older or smaller police officer -- would tolerate being knocked to the ground and kicked repeatedly is a good question.)

I suspect, though, that the word "normal" is intended in the moralistic sense, because it is coupled with "misguided." So, while the dead man is blameless, his shooter is bad. Simply for having a gun.

But had he not been carrying a gun, he'd have been beaten to a pulp or even killed. By a convicted arsonist who attacks total strangers at random.

Nothing bad about that?

I think that what the dead man's uncle misses is the overwhelmingly, horrendously awful nature of what his nephew did. Setting fire to day care centers and attacking total strangers are atrocious acts by any standard. Whether they can be called "evil" depends on whether he had the capacity to form an evil mind, but that does not alter the horrible nature of his deeds. From the standpoint of any victim, whether his mental illness (or his documented crack addiction) caused him to behave that way is no more relevant than whether a vicious dog that attacked in an unprovoked manner suffered from rabies or was just plain vicious.

Anyone crazy enough to attack total strangers at random can reasonably be expected to also be crazy enough to kill them. This was no ordinary ("normal") attack with fists. Thus the question is really not "How you would respond to someone attacking you with his fists?" but "How you would respond to a total stranger attacking you at random with his fists, then kicking you when you're down?"

Without a gun, I suppose one "normal" response would be to lie there and die.

MORE: Better dead than armed? In a post titled "No Gun, No Chance," (and in a related post) Dr. Helen looks at this disturbingly common philosophy.

Via Glenn Reynolds, who also links David Hardy:

Unarmed security guard sounds a little like a contradiction ... at best a deterrence to the more stupid or minor criminals (don't steal that bike -- there's a guy in uniform), at worst, a man put in an impossible situation, charged with protecting others, but having nothing but a radio to call for help, and maybe his fists.
Not long ago, a maniac grabbed an electric saw and cut open a subway passenger's chest in New York. Far from protecting the passenger, the subway employees were said to be traumatized as they watched the attack:
One MTA worker says the attack was a frightening scene for his colleagues.

"They're very shook up," said MTA Supervisor Saint Dorceus. "They're very shook up because this is an incident that happened right in front of them. The guy grabbed their tools and went to work trying to kill people. And so it's traumatic."

MTA employees called for help, and the passenger barely lived. Had he defended his life with a gun, he'd have faced serious charges.

(After all, it wasn't as if the saw-wielding teddy-bear stuffed chimpanzee clutcher was at fault or anything.)

posted by Eric on 11.01.06 at 05:06 PM


My analysis is pretty much in agreement with yours. My thought as I read the first couple of paragraphs was "Working as intended."

Is the story tragic? Of course. I doubt the 52 year old took any great pleasure in killing his attacker, especially once he learned the history of mental problems. His mental problems do not mean that society must become his victim, however.

The Unabrewer   ·  November 1, 2006 11:14 PM

My thought? AFter Darwinian evolution working as the "intelligent designer" intended?

There was at least one other mentally ill person in the Culotti Family. Not trying to be flippant (too flippant, at least), but Uncle Culotti there needs some treatment himself.

Danny Culotti was mentally ill and he was let down by society. OK. However, society's first line of defense in protecting all of us from the mentally ill is not an armed citizenry. That's a safety net that should be in place after other security precautions have been breached. Our first line of defense is the family. And Danny Culotti was a severely mentally ill young man who, I'm guessing, was let down by his family, who should have seen to it that he was institutionalized (such a bad word!) and received the treatment he needed.

I'm guessing that when Young Danny was arrested for the arson, the family reacted by lawyering up. Hired the best criminal defense attorney tehy could afford. High fives all around when he only got nine months! Uncle's narrative, in blaming the assault victim only, is consistent with that narrative. Otherwise, I would have expected to see a paragraph about society letting Danny C down by letting him walk after such a strong "cry for help". So that's the dog that didn't bark.

Self-defense is not a violent assault on the mentally impaired.

Rhodium Heart   ·  November 1, 2006 11:50 PM


Danny Culotti was mentally ill and he was let down by society.


Look at the law. Merely being m/i does NOT allow society to lock someone away. This is why such a high percentage of the homeless are m/i.

And there are tons of families that would LOVE to get their adult m/i family members into a lockdown facilitiy, but cannot.

Thank the ACLU.

Darleen   ·  November 2, 2006 10:01 AM

My initial reaction was: "Hit him in the abdomen while lying there being beaten up...WOW, good shooting."

OTOH, I was beaten up in a similar manner while being mugged in Beautiful Downtown New York. And no-one tried to pull the bum off me.

Wish I were carrying concealed then...

Good Ole Charlie   ·  November 2, 2006 11:58 AM

It is a tragic story, given that the kid was sick rather than evil. I mean this is not justice, but execution. Having said that, I've no doubt that the Uncle would say the schizophrenia excused anything, even and including his nephew killing a child.

Harkonnendog   ·  November 2, 2006 7:46 PM

I think before you all start getting your opinions and making judgements on people, you need to get your facts straight. The man who shot Danny was not a stranger to Danny but can easily say that since Danny is not here to contradict that. You don't hear the whole story and it is beyond me why you all feel you can talk about it. No homeless man should have a gun permit.

Katie   ·  November 13, 2006 3:17 PM

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