No Facts Were Used In Writing This Column: Des Moines Register Edition

Iowa passed a self-defense reform law in its most recent session, mere weeks ago. Commonly called “Stand your Ground”, what it does is removes the “duty to retreat” – which is really a “duty to remember a lot of state statutes about attempting to disengage” – from the affirmative legal defense for self-defense.

Now, if you’ve followed this blog, you know the continuum of events:

  1. “Stand your Ground” law is proposed.
  2. Newspaper columnists write alarmed, “sky is falling”, uninformed stories about the subject.
  3. A bunch of other stuff happens.

The Des Moines Register and Daniel Finney are no exception.

And I’d like to try to do something about that.  Ignorance is a tragedy.  Let’s stop the tragedy.

It Wouldn’t Be An MSM Article about Guns…:   Finney starts off with some history.

In this case, history of newspaper people’s myopia:


About 20 years ago, when there was an outbreak of shootings in the metro, The Des Moines Register ran a list of tips suggesting what people should do if they were caught in the crossfire.

This was the photo that the Des Moines Register ran with the online version of this piece. No, no scaremongering here.

One of the tips was duck and find cover.

This list generated a lot of laughter, both in and out of the newsroom, because the advice was seemingly so obvious that it engendered a, “No, duh” response.

But for those who remember Nick Coleman as a columnist, that’s not quite a low enough standard.

But I digress:

These days, though, “duck and cover” is out of fashion.

Earlier this month, Gov. Terry Branstad signed sweeping changes to Iowa gun laws that include expanding the so-called “stand your ground” laws.

That part is true.

I point it out because it’s just about the last part of this column rooted in objective fact.

Out Standing In The Field::  Finney isn’t the only one on the Register’s staff that doesn’t really get the law:

As standout Register Statehouse reporter Brianne Pfannenstiel writes, the new law says you don’t have to duck and cover or run away.

Instead, if a person is “any place where the person is lawfully present,” they may defend themselves with deadly force.

Further, the law says “a person may be wrong in their estimation of danger or about how much force is necessary ‘as long as there is a reasonable basis for the belief … and the person acts reasonably in response to that belief,'” Pfannenstiel reported.

real “standout” reporter would have asked a few more questions, and found out that that’s pretty much how the “Reasonable Person” standard works.    If a complete stranger revs up a chainsaw and charges toward you yelling “I’m going to kill you, you sonafabitch”, and you shoot her, and deep in her heart she actually intended to stop at the last second and tell you it’s an elaborate practical joke?   The law doesn’t expect you to be a mind-reader – and no reasonable person would ever convict you for it.   –

At any rate, when Mr. Finney says…:

I wish Polk County Attorney John Sarcone and his colleagues the best of luck figuring out how to interpret what a “reasonable basis for belief” of someone feeling they’re in danger.

…you can tell he needs to talk with an even stand-outier capitol reporter, because they have to do it with every single self-defense case today.  

Let’s Take A Break From The Column For Some Actual Facts:  Mr. Finney:   there are some subjective but firm factors that everyone has to meet to claim self-defense; I wind up citing them on this blog so often, I made a separate page for them.

  • Don’t be the aggressor
  • A jury would believe you legitimately feared being killed, maimed or raped
  • You use only the force needed to stop the threat
  • A jury would believe you tried hard enough to disengage before resorting to lethal force.  What’s “hard enough?”  In Minnesota, that’s the subject of a dozen pieces of case law; I’d imagine Iowa is – or was – the same.   “Castle Doctrine” laws eliminate this in your home.  “Stand your Ground” eliiminates this, and only this, anyplace else where you have a legal right to be.    And that is all.  You still have to convince the cops, the prosecutor or the jury of the other three criteria!

Situational Awareness:  Back to Mr. Finney:

I’ll use an example from my own life. I used to walk a 3-mile loop in my parents’ east Des Moines neighborhood. Periodically, I crossed paths with a woman who was also out walking.

Every time the woman saw me, she crossed to the other side of the street. I understand that. She didn’t know me.

I’m 6-foot-4. I’m heavy. And, especially in the fall, it was getting dark out.

While most violence, including rape and homicide, is committed between people who already know each other, the woman was being cautious. I was a large man she didn’t know at twilight.

Better safe than sorry.

Well, yeah – that’s common sense.

But common sense doesn’t trump ignorance.  As we’ll see with Mr. Finney’s next bit:

I tried to keep an eye out for people around me, but I was also listening to my workout mix cassette tapes (yeah, I’m that old). On hills, sometimes I put my head down and gritted through the climb.

What if I was walking at a fast clip and happened to come up behind this woman or bump into her?

It seems to me the way that law is written, she could shoot me dead, and the law, as written, would say she was free to go.

This is far-fetched, of course.

No, it’s not far-fetched.

It’s ignorant.

Mr. Finney:  If she shot you, would a jury believe you posed a threat of death, mutilation or rape?  A real jury, not a fantasy nightmare jury?

Not sure how you behave around strange women in the dark, Mr. Finney, but as a 6’5 guy with an air of calculated menace living in a neighborhood full of college-age women, I go out of my way to appear innocuous and unthreatening when out and about after dark.

Of course, Finney is not merely ignorant about Iowa self-defense law; knowingly or not (I tend to think most reporters don’t know better and never get around to asking, because their editors never make them); he’s trafficking a lie about “Stand Your Ground”, one that I see, almost unaltered, from uninformed columnists all over the place; “Stand your Ground means you can shoot people who make you nervous”.

As we’ve pointed out in this space countless times in the past, it’s an ignorant myth.

I’m going to ignore the rest of the article; it’s no better-informed, but it’s off topic.

But Mitch – Why?:  You might be thinking to yourself “Mitch – you’re fisking yet another reporters’s badly-informed column about a law he or she clearly doesn’t understand.   For like the 1,000th time in the past 15 years.  Why?”

Because Don Quixote is my role model?

Well, maybe a little.  But there’s a more important reason.

I sent Mr. Finney an email, gently setting him straight on his many factual errors.

But if you know some 2nd Amendment activists in Des Moines, feel free to have them send Mr. Finney the link to this piece (his email address is at the bottom of the article).     Because newspaper columnists, for all their vaunted contact in the community, tend to live in echo chambers – especially columnists in “blue” cities like Des Moines (to say nothing of Minneapolis and Saiint Paul).

And sometimes, a little dissonance makes the chamber a little less echo-y.

7 thoughts on “No Facts Were Used In Writing This Column: Des Moines Register Edition

  1. It’s probably “racist” to tell large, muscular young men tips for avoiding causing panic, stuff like showing your face, smiling, saying hello or good morning/evening, and the like, isn’t it?

    That noted, it’s probably racist as well to keep letting “journalists” know the truth when they spout of nonsense from Brady/VPC/whatever they’re calling themselves this week.

  2. Des Moines just marked its twelfth homicide for the year. One of the most recent was Friday night with a man waiting to pick up his wife with his three kids in the car. Some “youths” approached the car. Details are still sketchy, but it seems it was a random robbery attempt that ended with the man being executed in front of his kids. I’m guessing Finney probably inwardly cursed the “unfortunate” timing of such a murder happening the same day as his column.

    My hat’s off to you, Mitch, for reading the Register. It’s not quite as far left-wing as the Star & Sickle, but it’s close enough that I gave up trying to read that drivel years ago.

  3. Finney supports my thesis: people who oppose stand-your-ground laws do so because they believe it gives hillbillies license to shoot Blacks.

    Finney: “A study from the Urban Institute found homicides involving a white perpetrator and a black victim are 281 percent more likely to be justified by courts than those involving a white perpetrator and a white victim.”

    It doesn’t matter.
    Even if it was true, it does not mean that the white-on-Black shootings were not justified. Finney assumes they are not justified, that is, they were the result of racism on the part of the shooter.
    He presents no evidence to support this point.
    Anyone who says “281% more likely” rather than “nearly three times as likely” is trying to bamboozle you. I sincerely doubt the figure is accurate to three digits of precision.

  4. “It is almost as if they’re itching for a conflict in which they can finally shoot and kill someone and get away with it.”

    What an ass nozzle.

  5. “A study from the Urban Institute found homicides involving a white perpetrator and a black victim are 281 percent more likely to be justified by courts than those involving a white perpetrator and a white victim BECAUSE BLACKS ARE 281% MORE LIKELY TO COMMIT CRIMINAL ACTS THAT PUT WHITES IN REASONABLE FEAR OF IMMINENT GREAT BODILY HARM OR DEATH.”

    Sounds racissss when I say it that way? But if it weren’t the case, then the courts wouldn’t be allowing self-defense to be asserted at trial and the jury wouldn’t be “justifying” those “homicides.”

  6. MP: you mean you doubt that the difference is significant to three significant figures, no?

    But really, the innumeracy of the statistic doesn’t bother me as much as the conflation of all homicides together, as if 1st degree murder is the same as justifiable homicide or something. For that matter, if I were to meet a black carry permit holder or homeowner who had reduced the number of white criminals, I would at least be tempted to buy him a beer or two in thanks. I don’t get why the “social justice” crowd is so sad about the demise of thugs just because they’re of a “preferred” minority. That “preferred” minority certainly didn’t benefit by that person’s continued existence.

  7. Yes, BB, significant to three figures. But 281% sounds larger than “less then three times.”
    Imagine how many other ways you can interpret the stat ” homicides involving a white perpetrator and a black victim are 281 percent more likely to be justified by courts than those involving a white perpetrator and a white victim” (and I don’t accept that the number is true w/o confirming).
    Finney has gotten the memo. The differences between Blacks and non-Blacks re: just about anything to do with guns are huge. For example, Blacks are about a third as likely to say that they are living in a household with a gun than non-Blacks, but are about three times as likely as non-Blacks to commit a gun crime.
    But the memo Finney got says that you are allowed to mention race and gun crime only when you do it in such a way that whites can be said to be racist.

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