Special report: Shoot or don't Shoot?

Special report: Shoot or don't Shoot?
A man is in critical condition after being shot in the early-morning hours on the Fourth of July, say police. (Source: File)

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Someone is breaking into your home. You have a firearm. Legally, can you use it? Do you want to? Here we explore the big question: Shoot or don't shoot.

"Before you pull the trigger, do you have to," questioned Fred Kately.

Kately said he asked himself that very question on April 23 when a man broke into his Pass Christian home.

"I woke up with a young man being an exotic dancer over my wife. He was naked, and he was trying to rape her," Kately said.

On instinct, he reached for his firearm.

"I pulled out my weapon, and I was going to shoot him in the head," Kately said.

His faith and his wife's pleas of mercy for the man gave him a change of heart. Instead, he held the man at gunpoint until police arrived.

"This kid was unarmed. He was no threat, no physical threat. He was an emotional threat but no physical threat to us. Let them do their job," said Kately.

Kately says had the man been armed, it would have been a completely different story. 

"He would have been dead. One of us would have been dead," said Kately.

That's the familiar outcome to this type of scenario. Frequently, homeowners choose to shoot, and in many cases, they have the right to.

District Attorney Tony Lawrence said there are two laws that protect you should you choose to pull the trigger in instances where your home or person are threatened. The first is self-defense.

"The right of self-defense is the right to act reasonably. The apprehension has to be reasonable," Lawrence said. "You can't use a bazooka to fend off a fist."

The second is a bit more inclusive. It's known as the Castle Doctrine, and it's a Mississippi law that covers your home and your property.

"In the Castle Doctrine, in certain situations, if you're in your home or a place where you have a lawful right to be and someone is trying to break into your home or kidnap someone from your home, then you have a right to defend yourself 100 percent," Lawrence said.

By defend yourself, he means, if necessary, lethally.

"We believe in guns in this country. You have a right to know if you can lawfully possess a gun. You have a right to lawfully possess that gun in your home and use it to defend yourself if the need arises," Lawrence said.

Rebecca Buckhalter, the manager of Corey's Pawn and Gun, said people come in regularly looking to do just that.

"In the past three to five years I've had more men and women come to me that have never owned a firearm in their lives wanting something for protection," Buckhalter said. "It's the crime rate, the breaking and entering."

She tells customers to be mindful with their weapons.

"You have a right to defend your home, but the laws can be very tricky," said Buckhalter.

Lawrence said she's right. When the question arises whether a shooting in these situations is justified, it can be tough to answer.

"Sometimes it can be very hard to determine," Lawrence said.

Kately said although legally he had the right to pull the trigger, he's glad he didn't.

"I went through all these emotions. Am I less than a man for not killing him, and why didn't I? But I feel like I'm a better person today for not doing that," said Kately.

The Castle Doctrine is a rebuttable law. In instances where justification is questioned, the decision to indict often gets turned over to a grand jury. In some cases, it goes to trial.

To view the Castle Doctrine in its entirety, click here.

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