Increase in ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’ Shootings Leads to Questions about ‘Stand your Ground’ Laws and Gun Control

AP Photo/ Susan Walsh

By Julie McCaffrey

WASHINGTON, DC – In one week last month, within days of each other, the U.S. President and Vice President had to address four shootings that injured or killed individuals who made common mistakes, according to FOX, CNN and other news outlets.

Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old Black teen, was shot on April 13 after he went to the wrong home to pick up his siblings in Kansas City, MO, and according to CNN, Yarl was wounded once in his head, fell, and then was shot once in the arm while he was still on the ground.

Andrew Lester, 84, said he shot Yarl because he was “scared to death” at boy’s size and believed he was trying to break in, according to statements in a probable cause document obtained by CNN. No words were exchanged before the shots were fired, and Yarl was shot through a locked glass door.

Shaun King, an activist close to the family, called Yarl “a WALKING MIRACLE with a head of steel.” King also stated that President Biden spoke to Yarl for over an hour, and he was invited to the White House. Vice President Harris spoke to him as well.

According to CNN, Lester is currently facing felony charges of assault in the first degree and armed criminal action. Lester pleaded not guilty to both charges, and was released on bail. He is slated to appear in court on June 1.

On April 15, 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis was shot and killed after she and three others accidently turned into the wrong driveway in upstate New York, according to CNN. The passengers were driving in two cars and a motorcycle on a dirt road at night with poor cell service, looking for a party.

According to Washington County Sheriff Jeffery Murphy, “[Kaylin and the other passengers] drove up this driveway for a very short time, realized their mistake and were leaving, when Mr. Monahan came out and fired two shots.”

Blake Walsh, Gillis’ boyfriend and driver of the car, had to drive an additional five miles to get cell service and call for help, said CNN, who quoted a neighbor who said Monahan has become increasingly bitter about people making wrong turns in his driveway.

Monahan’s attorney, Kurt Mausert, stated that he “[doesn’t] believe [his] client is a villain,” and said in a phone interview that he “believes we have a series of mistakes that led to a tragedy.”

Monahan faces charges of second-degree murder and was arraigned, according to his attorney. He remains detained pending a bond hearing.

The third shooting took place in a supermarket parking lot outside Austin, TX, on April 18, when a teenage cheerleader, Heather Roth, mistook a car for her own, according to CNN. She returned to the car where her fellow cheerleaders were waiting, when the suspect, Pedro Tello Rodriguez, Jr., approached them.

Roth said she was trying to apologize to the suspect for mistaking his car for her own, when “he just threw his hands up, and then he pulled out a gun and he just started shooting at all of us.”

Roth and Payton Washington were both struck before they could flee. According to the Guardian, Washington was shot in the back and leg, and Roth was grazed by a stray bullet

Roth and three others drove away in their car, and pulled over when they realized Washington was seriously hurt. Washington was shot twice and is stable in the ICU. She is expected to make a full recovery. Roth was treated at the scene.

Rodriguez is charged with third-degree felony deadly conduct and has been taken into custody, stated NPR.

The last shooting occurred the same day Roth and Washington were shot, and, according to NPR, three individuals were shot after a basketball rolled into a neighbor’s yard in Gaston County, NC.  One of the victims was 6-year-old Kinsley White, who was grazed by a bullet and received stitches in her cheek. Her father, William White was shot in the back and remains hospitalized.

The suspect, Robert Louis Singletary, faces charges of four counts of attempted first-degree murder, one count of possession of a firearm by a felon and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill or inflicting serious injury, according to Fox News that said Singletary turned himself in Thursday night after a two-day manhunt.

According to Ashley Hilderbrand, White’s wife and Kinsley’s mother, Singletary “looked at my husband and daughter and told them, ‘I’m going to kill you.’”

Members of the public took to Twitter to express their outrage over these recent shootings, calling for gun control and using the hashtag #ItsTheGuns, many noting these shootings are the latest in a national gun epidemic. In 2023 alone, there were 170 mass shootings, killing 232 people and injuring 678 others, according to Gun Violence Archives.

These shootings in particular raise questions over “stand your ground laws” enacted in at least 28 states, most notably Missouri, where Yarl was shot. “Stand your ground laws” state that “there is no duty to retreat from an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present,” said the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

Missouri Attorney Bill Tackett thinks it is unlikely that Lester will be able to use the “stand your ground law” effectively, according to NBC.  

“These doctrines don’t apply to someone who’s nonthreatening, knocking on the door on the stoop of a house. Otherwise, that means anybody who comes to your door, you can put a bullet in their head and it’s OK. You can’t do that,” states Attorney Tackett. “There’s no ‘stand your ground’ because there’s no threat,” he told NBC.

Donald Jones, a criminal law professor at University of Miami, tells TIME magazine that “a justification of self-defense requires that a reasonable person would feel it’s necessary to avoid an imminent threat of death or bodily harm. You have to have all of those things. He [Lester] has none of them.”

Other legal experts tell TIME that they believe the key question is what justifies reasonable fear and use of deadly force.

Kami Chavis, Director of the Center of Criminal Justice Policy and Reform at William & Mary Law School, told Time Magazine that “to have self-defense at all you have to be met with a reasonable threat.” She and other legal experts agree that ringing a doorbell doesn’t justify using deadly force.

About The Author

Julie is a third year at UC Davis majoring in Communications and Psychology with a minor in Philosophy. She hopes to advocate for women's reproductive rights and make the justice system fairer for sexual assault survivors.

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