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Blown away: A home invasion gone wrong 

You can't just shoot people, no matter how much they piss you off.

But if you are going to shoot someone in North Carolina, particularly someone who has broken into your home and stolen from you, you've got to stick to a couple of simple rules. Feel free to blow him away (but do mind the carpet, it makes a terrible mess) if an intruder in your home or on your property is threatening you or another individual. You can also pop him if he's coming at you for reasons that are unclear, or, generally speaking, if you happen to stumble upon him in your home.

But it gets more difficult to justify, under current law, if you shoot him when he is headed out the door or down the street and away from you, even if he happens to be carrying your flat screen TV at the time.

Chase him a few blocks and shoot at him and you'd really be pushing the limits of the law -- and most likely the patience of the county prosecutor who then must decide whether to charge you with a crime or not.

This is an extremely simplified explanation of self-defense law in North Carolina. Home-invasion victim C.L. McClure, 76, stretched those laws to their utter, screaming, whiplash-inducing limits when he got into a car with his gun and chased the four thugs who broke into his home, tied him up, terrorized his wife and made off with his stuff. He caught up with them a third of a mile later and shot one of them, 15-year-old Marcus Fluker, to death. McClure claims he did it in self-defense because he thought the youths were aiming a gun at him.

They might have been; two of McClure's guns, stolen from his home, were later found by police at the home of Matthew Morgan, 17, one of the four home-invasion suspects, making it highly likely that the four had the guns on them at the time.

I haven't the slightest bit of outrage over the taking of Fluker's life. When you make the mind-numbingly stupid decision to break into a home with the owner inside and threaten him with a gun, you take the chance that he's crazier than you are or that you will trip survival instincts in him that can reduce upstanding, law-abiding citizens to savagery. It's the equivalent of driving the wrong way down I-485 and expecting that all the cars will get out of your way. Eventually you are bound to get hit head-on. And according to a WCNC report, Fluker, who had a juvenile record, had done it before, accruing several burglary charges.

But many lawful gun owners across the county no doubt also winced at what McClure did. The media and certain lawmakers are constantly looking for reasons to demonize us while ignoring, if not effectively encouraging, the actions of those who would terrorize us in our homes. Incidents like this give these people something to latch on to.

It would have been much worse had McClure hit an innocent passerby or a child, a chance he took when he fired his gun on a city street. That could have made national news and all lawful gun owners would be under attack, which would ultimately make us more vulnerable in the future to people like Fluker and Morgan.

And that's the problem. Where does self-protection end and vigilantism begin? Mecklenburg County District Attorney Peter Gilchrist will have to figure that out, and I don't envy him. Did the home invaders raise a gun in self-protection against McClure? Who raised their weapon first? It's fine mess to sort out.

It will be interesting to see whether Gilchrist charges McClure. In a baffling twist on his usual laissez-faire, can't-do attitude on crime, Gilchrist, who usually has a list of excuses a mile long for why he had to cut a sweet plea deal with whatever six-time felon he is prosecuting this week, has been a de facto defender of self-protection rights. Gilchrist seems to be less likely to prosecute self-defenders, at least in the decade I've been watching, than most of the tough-on-crime prosecutors in surrounding counties. (Either that or he's just too frazzled with the county's docket to mess with prosecuting these people.)

Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see what Gilchrist does with McClure for another reason. He's let police officer after police officer go uncharged for shootings in recent years in which officers have shot and killed a wheelchair-bound man who refused medical help, a cell tower worker who was thought to be breaking into a cell tower but was inside doing his job and two young men running from officers (while both carried guns, both were also shot in the back).

While there's obviously a huge difference between an officer doing his job in the line of fire and a gun-wielding home-invasion victim, it will be interesting to see if Gilchrist gives McClure the same benefit of the doubt he gave the officers.

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