Kansas is a whacky place, what with its impossibly flat land and endless fields of wheat and sorghum (which is apparently a type of sustainable livestock feed and ethanol fuel source), not to mention the perpetual parade of impervious aliens and supernatural portals.
Well, the crazy Kansans of the Sunflower State can now add a new claim to fame by being the only state that requires you to shoot your attacker with your gun as a prerequisite to claiming self-defense, or else the defense will be waived and you’ll be charged with aggravated assault.
Hmm… That new one doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily as “The Barbed Wire Capital of the World.”
In a recent case before the Kansas Court of Appeals, a majority of the court held that under Kansas law, citizens who attempt to claim self-defense when confronted by either the threat of harm which they reasonably believe will occur or are under actual physical attack, can only claim the defense if they use actual physical force against their attacker.
What constitutes actual physical force? Well in the case of State v. Flint described in the previous paragraph, it meant that the defendant, Flint, had to actually fire the gun he was holding at his attacker.
Sound weird? Well it sounds even stranger when you know the actual facts of the case. Flint and his fiancée were in a bar when his fiancée got into an argument with two male bar patrons. The argument eventually moved outside of the bar and became more heated. Then somewhere along the line there was a “scuffle” and Flint’s fiancée end up on the floor. Flint then grabbed a gun from his car and pointed it at the men who then backed off.
Now you’d think that this might sound like a clear-cut case for self-defense, and a more preferable use of it as well since the situation was resolved with no one getting hurt. And if anything, the question of whether Flint should be allowed a self-defense claim should revolve around whether his belief that he or his fiancée were under the threat of harm was reasonable and whether his pointing a gun was a reasonable response.
Well, not quite – in Kansas anyway. The court convicted Flint of aggravated assault. In legal language assault means threatening another with physical harm, whereas battery means actually physically harm another person. Aggravated in this case just means a weapon was used.
So you might be wondering at this point how such a seemingly backward result occurred. It’s because the Kansas Court of Appeals was upholding a previous ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court on a case called State v. Hendrix where the court took a literal interpretation of the Kansas statute on self-defense. Basically the court said because the statute only allows self-defense claims when a person uses force and makes no mention of using the threat of force, then self-defense is only allowed in Kansas when a person actually uses force on their attacker and nothing less.
It’s a very, very strange ruling. I mean most states around the country have similarly worded statutes on self-defense and they all seem to understand how weird and potentially dangerous a literal interpretation can be, especially when one takes into consideration how America’s attitudes on guns are evolving.
In the meantime, the only way Kansans can change this interpretation is by soliciting their legislature for a change to the self-defense law. But it’s not all bad. Kansan gun-toters must be ecstatic right now.