Number Of Shots Not Valid Reason For First Degree Murder Charge


There is a joke that goes around the gun culture. After a defensive shooting, an attorney asks the person who was defending themselves “Why did you shoot him six times?” The stock punch line is: “Because I ran out of ammunition.”

The best humor has a lot of truth in it. In the highly charged atmosphere of a life and death defensive shooting, few people are able to count their shots. It is extremely common for people to empty their guns while attempting to stop a threat.

There is a phenomena that commonly occurs in life and death situations called tachypsychia. You perceive that time slows down, even though things are happening very fast.

An expert can empty a fully loaded .45 in less than a second. A person who is hit in the chest, even with a shot that hits the heart, can easily have 10-20 seconds of active life, just on adrenaline and the oxygen that is already in the blood supply. Hunters of big game, such as deer can easily understand this. It is common for a deer shot through the heart to run a hundred yards before they fall over. I have seen this phenomena many times.

It is common for people to be hit multiple times, very fast, before they fall down. They may be dead with the first shot; but they do not know it yet.  It is easy for a person to empty their gun before their assailant drops. I doubt that Ann Baskervill has spent much time considering the finer points of the dynamics of defensive use of firearms. I say this with some confidence because of her recent statements. From

Ann Baskervill, the Dinwiddie County commonwealth’s attorney, said 18-year-old James Faison fired eight rounds at his father with a .45-caliber handgun, with six shots hitting the victim.

“He emptied the gun, the only reason he stopped shooting is because it didn’t have anymore ammo,” Baskervill said.

It is for this reason that she has charged Faison with first-degree murder, which could land the young man in prison for the rest of his life plus three years.

The case is in process. The father, Irvine Faison, was a big man, 6’4″ and 250 lbs. He had a history of domestic violence charges, and was once sentenced to 11 months in jail, of which he served one month before being released on parole. Irvine Faison’s  brother Michael Baumgras made this claim:

“It was senseless, that’s it overall,” Baumgras said. “If you were going to try and claim self-defense or something, why did you have to unload the clip in him? You could’ve just shot one time and that would have been enough.”

The concern with James Faison emptying the gun on his father is exactly why the Dinwiddie Sheriff’s Office and Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney office are pursuing first-degree murder charge.

There may be more forensic evidence that is not being released. Perhaps the statement by the prosecutor was more nuanced than is being reported. If the report is accurate, and the prosecution is basing their first degree murder charge on the number of shots fired, they are basing their case on a very frail reed. Their ignorance of the dynamics of real world self defense is showing.

The common wisdom among people teaching self defense is to keep shooting until the threat is down and no longer a threat.  I was not at the shooting scene.  I do not know the people  involved.  But I do know that a .45 can be emptied with great rapidity, easily far faster than many people will react to being shot.

The prosecutor, Baskervill, shows another misunderstanding of the meaning of vigilantism and self defense:

“It’s sympathetic when anyone is a victim of abuse, but you can’t just take it into your own hands and be a vigilante,” Baskervill said.

“Vigilante” is a word that has been egregiously abused.  It is often invoked in self defense shootings, to imply that only government sanctioned force is legitimate.  Of course, that has never been correct.   The right to self defense is one of the most fundamental rights of a human being, perhaps of any living creature.

©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.  Link to Gun Watch

About the Author

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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