KC Chief rally shooters could claim self-defense

Missouri’s “stand your ground” law allows a person to use deadly force against a perceived threat if deemed “reasonable.” One needn’t try to escape from a threat before using (even deadly) force to repel that threat



March 4, 2024 - 2:28 PM

People take cover after a shooting wounded 39 and killed one following the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl LVIII victory parade on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Nick Wagner/The Kansas City Star/TNS)

On Valentine’s Day, as fans celebrated the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory, shots rang out near Union Station. In the span of minutes, 39 people — many of them children — were wounded. And one, beloved local DJ Elizabeth Galvan, lay dead. 

But unlike many public shootings, where law enforcement struggles to find a motive, we know the cause of this tragic incident. It was the result of an altercation between two young men, who have both claimed that they acted in legitimate self-defense, in accordance with Missouri’s “stand your ground” law, also known as the “castle doctrine.”

 In 2016, the state amended its use of force laws, removing the duty to retreat before defending oneself, at home or in public. It’s possible, if not likely, that the accused shooters’ defense in court will invoke the stand your ground statute. 

Under the new law, one needn’t try to escape from a threat before using (even deadly) force to repel that threat, and there are legal and administrative protections for people who are found to have used force in a reasonable act of self-defense. 

But therein lies one of the problems with stand your ground laws: We have seen — time after time — that “reasonableness” is in the eye of the beholder. And many carry unacknowledged assumptions about what kinds of people constitute a threat — even if they are unarmed — and what kinds of people are authorized to use violence in self-defense. 

Further, stand your ground laws promote the idea that people should shoot first, and ask questions later if they feel threatened, and that firearms are first and foremost essential tools of self-defense, even if empirical data shows the opposite. 

This case is complicated also by the fact that both alleged shooters survived to tell their stories. In many other stand your ground cases, the only living witness is the person who pulled the trigger, and prosecutors struggle to disprove someone’s claim of being fearful. 

Further, both shooters in the Chiefs rally incident are young Black men, who are historically depicted as threatening and violent, regardless of their actions. If both men claim that their perception of threat provoked them to fire their guns, how will a courtroom weigh the relative “reasonableness” of their actions? 

Last summer, after an 84-year-old white man opened fire on Ralph Yarl, a Black teen who rang the shooter’s doorbell by mistake, a judge questioned the shooter’s claims of being “scared to death” of the unarmed teen, and made him stand trial for first-degree assault and armed criminal action. The trial is scheduled for October. 

Ralph Yarl fortunately survived his encounter with an armed self-defender, but Elizabeth Galvan did not. 

Regardless of the outcome of this latest tragic case of stand your ground gone terribly wrong,may it help open our eyes to the catastrophic risks of encouraging people to fire a gun whenever they feel threatened. 

About the author: Caroline Light is a senior lecturer at Harvard University and the author of “Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense.” She lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.