The Terrifying and True Harold Fish Story

by Gerard Valentino

The prosecution of Harold Fish reignited the debate over self-defense laws in America. For those not familiar with the story, Mr. Fish was convicted in Coconino County, Arizona of 2nd degree murder despite staying on site and rendering aid after being forced to shoot a violent attacker.

Had Mr. Fish fled, the remote area where the shooting took place meant he was unlikely to be identified.

Despite the opinion of the deputy that processed the crime scene and a mountain of evidence that proved Mr. Fish acted in self-defense, Coconino County authorities bowed to political pressure and pursued a baseless murder charge. When the judge excluded relevant evidence during the subsequent trial, it left the defense at a disadvantage and led to a guilty verdict.

Thankfully, Mr. Fish won his appeal and is currently a free man. His story, however, shows how laws in America put law-abiding citizens at a disadvantage when forced to use self defense.

Buckeye Firearms Association attorney Ken Hanson constantly reminds citizens to wait for legal representation before talking to police after a self-defense shooting. Yet most honest citizens think that since they are innocent, it can't do any harm.

Adding to the confusion, in most states self-defense is an affirmative defense, which means if the case goes to trial, the law-abiding citizen has to prove the act of self-preservation was legally justified. That means if the case makes it to court, the honest citizen sits at the defendant's table and the criminal that tried to commit a violent crime is considered the victim.

The establishment media coverage of gun owners also works against law-abiding citizens who use deadly force.

By painting gun owners as a semi-literate knuckle-dragging fringe group, the establishment media has furthered the myth that anyone carrying a gun for self-defense is a crazed vigilante. Since millions of Americans are now legally carrying guns, nothing can be further from the truth. But, because gun owners are portrayed that way in popular culture, it becomes an accepted stereotype.

Oddly enough, the violent past of Mr. Fish's attacker was ruled by the judge to be inadmissible. But Mr. Fish's history as a gun owner was allowed into evidence during the trial, and the prosecutor used it to portray him as a blood-thirsty killer.

So, according to the prosecutor and judge in this case, the mere act of exercising the right to bear arms is justification for questioning a citizen's mental state, motives and character.

As an honest citizen, Mr. Fish did what he considered to be the right thing by calling the authorities and then putting his trust in the criminal justice system. Instead of finding salvation and legal protection, however, his decision cost him three years in prison, and likely will bankrupt his family.

Everyone wants the victim of a violent attack to notify the authorities after a self-defense shooting, but the persecution of Harold Fish will surely make the next armed citizen think twice.

Such an outcome is unacceptable, and every American needs to be outraged. Yet, because Mr. Fish used a gun in self-defense, his nightmare barely caused a ripple outside of Arizona; A sad commentary on how self-defense cases are viewed in America today.

The truth is if someone like Harold Fish can end up in jail, anyone can. He was simply going about his normal day when a violent attacker forced him into a no-win situation. Then, an unjust prosecutor used Mr. Fish's choice to exercise the God-given right to bear arms against him.

That should never happen in America.

Gerard Valentino, a former military intelligence analyst, is a member of the Buckeye Firearms Foundation Board of Directors and the author of "The Valentino Chronicles – Observations of a Middle Class Conservative," available through the Buckeye Firearms Association store.

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