Here are two headlines and first sentences from different news stations covering the same event. Story one:
Police: Woman shoots boyfriend during roadway argument
HOUSTON (KTRK) — A man was shot in southwest Houston Wednesday and his girlfriend is accused of firing the gun.
When I glance at the headline of this story, as a reader I make some immediate assumptions about what probably happened: a “roadway argument” sounds like both of them agreed to have a fight with each other. Maybe he was in the wrong. Maybe she was. It’s hard to say, isn’t it? Then I read that the police have “accused” her of firing the gun, so there’s probably something very wrong about what she did.
Any casual reader might conclude that this woman should be arrested and taken to trial. After all, we can’t have people shooting each other just because someone got into an argument with her boyfriend.
That’s story one. Here’s story two:
PD: Woman shoots ex-boyfriend outside SW Houston gas station
HOUSTON (KPRC) – Police said a woman shot her ex-boyfriend in self-defense outside a southwest Houston gas station.
Definitely get a different feeling from reading this one. A woman shot her ex-boyfriend. As a reader, do you have some assumptions or feelings that might go along with the prefix “ex-” in a story like this? I sure do. And then we read that the police said she shot her ex in “self-defense”. That sure puts a different spin on things. Why, it’s almost like it’s an entirely different event.
A casual reader might conclude that the woman made a completely correct choice to defend herself from a violently abusive stalker. Instead of being taken to jail, she should get a medal!
And that’s just with two sentences per story.
What really happened?
Although here on Cornered Cat’s Scratching Post blog, we often discuss things we can learn about self defense from reading news stories or watching surveillance videos, we must always understand that news stories provide a very limited view of what happened and why it happened. Even without bias (and everyone is biased, including the very imperfect person writing these words), a short account can never give us an complex, complete reality.
So we use news stories to spark our own thinking. We use videos to help us picture crime in more realistic ways than the ones Hollywood shows us or the images inside our own heads. But we’re also not very surprised when more information later comes to light, when it turns out that a vigilante on “neighborhood patrol” was actually just a guy on his way to the store, or that the sweet-faced prepubescent he shot turns out to be a very large and angry young man who weighed more than he did.
Those twists and turns in the news accounts are often infuriating for people with a political axe to grind, but they’re not really a surprise to us who closely follow such cases. That’s the nature of self-defense cases that make the news: they are complex, they are often controversial, they are reported upon by people who have opinions, and they are always missing key details that might help others understand what happened and why.
What’s a woman to do?
As a woman who is serious about being able to protect myself and the people I love, I’m very much aware that people who actively defend themselves from violent attacks don’t always get a fair shake in the news. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about, and I hope you have, too.
It’s important to think these things through, not because we want to scare ourselves with all the what-if‘s and could-be‘s that might happen in the future, but because thinking these things through really sets them in perspective. It helps us be sure that we’re as mentally prepared as we can be to protect ourselves and our loved ones without hesitation or distracting thoughts.
Of course, we all know that we must be sure that our lives are really in danger whenever we use a deadly weapon such as a gun: are the elements of Ability, Opportunity, and Jeopardy all present? Have we done as much as we could reasonably do to avoid having to shoot? If the answer to all these questions is yes, then we should act immediately to save our lives.
Fears of a nasty headline may slow us down. Wondering what the neighbors will think might cause us to freeze for a critical moment. But when an innocent life is on the line, those factors should fade into the background.
Instead of worrying about headlines or lawsuits, neighbor’s reactions or what the in-laws might say, we must be prepared to act. Because saving an innocent life will always be more important than any of that stuff.
Think it through.