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PAGE NINE -- No. 68
by Alan Korwin, Author
Gun Laws of America


Sotomayer Overlooks All 14
Supreme Court Self-Defense Cases


For Immediate Release:
Sotomayer Misses All 14 Self Defense Cases

July 21, 2009
Full contact info at end

by Alan Korwin, Co-Author
Supreme Court Gun Cases

In Congressional testimony, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayer claimed she couldn't think of a self-defense case having come before the Supreme Court, adding, "I could be wrong, but I can't think of one." Independent research shows that fourteen separate Supreme Court cases, from 1895 to 1985, addressed every basic aspect of personal self defense. All of them held that self defense is a valid, justifiable and long-standing tenet of American law.

The Bloomfield Press book "Supreme Court Gun Cases" (Kopel, Halbrook, Korwin), released in 2003 and in the Supreme Court's library, covers the 92 High Court gun cases in existence at that time. Four additional gun cases (plus the original 92) are included in the followup, "The Heller Case: Gun Rights Affirmed," released in 2008. The fourteen cases that directly address self defense are summarized below in Q&A format. Full summaries of the cases are found in "The Heller Case" book,, and the cases themselves can be linked to from the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company's website,, using the National Directory button.

The brief index below is a convenient research and navigation tool, and a way to set the record straight on what the Court has already done. Read the entire case for a thorough understanding of each one.

The news media, pundits, Congress and Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayer have unfortunately exhibited complete ignorance of these cases, and public policy is harmed by that lack of knowledge.

The Supreme Court has recognized, addressed and answered all the most fundamental questions about self defense. The idea that they have never addressed this core American issue is completely false, as the numerous cases clearly demonstrate. The news media is encouraged to correct any misconceptions that may exist on this subject and in Ms. Sotomayer's sworn testimony.


KEY:     Name      Date       Citation       Page

Acers v. United States       1896       164 U.S. 388       238
Is fear of a deadly attack, without reasonable demonstrated grounds for the fear, sufficient to support a claim of self defense [NO]; Must the danger be immediate [YES]; Can any object be considered as a deadly weapon depending on how it was used [YES].

Alberty v. United States       1896       162 U.S. 499       231
If a husband sees another man trying to get into his wife’s room window at night is it natural for him to investigate further [YES]; Is the husband under a duty to retreat when attacked with a knife under such circumstances [NO]; May the husband use only as much force as is necessary to repel the assault [YES]; If in an ensuing confrontation the husband shoots and kills the other man, then flees, must his flight in and of itself be seen as evidence of his guilt [NO].

Allen v. United States       1896       164 U.S. 492       241
Are words alone sufficient provocation to justify an assault [NO]; Are words alone sufficient to reduce murder to manslaughter [NO]; Can premeditation and intent to kill be determined from your actions [YES]; Although flight after a possibly criminal event may suggest guilt, does it prove it conclusively [NO].

Allison v. United States       1895       160 U.S. 203       216
Is it reasonable to believe that you’re in immediate deadly danger if a person, known to be abusive, known to carry a pistol, and who has made public threats against your life, makes a motion as if to draw down on you, even if it turns out he wasn’t armed at the time [YES]; If there is no corroborating evidence besides your testimony, may the jury decide to take your word for it and acquit based on your credibility [YES]; If you have your deer rifle with you while visiting a friend’s house and your adversary shows up, and in an ensuing confrontation you shoot him, can the judge instruct the jury that you’re guilty of murder if you armed yourself to go hunt down your adversary, when there is no evidence to support this claim [NO].

Andersen v. United States       1898       170 U.S. 481       255
If an indictment is brought charging that a defendant shot and then threw a victim’s body into the sea, so the exact cause of death cannot be known, is the indictment flawed and invalid [NO]; Do the elements of self defense have to be present for an accused person to successfully claim self defense [YES].

Beard v. United States       1895       158 U.S. 550       208
Can you stand your ground with a shotgun against an unprovoked armed attack on your property near your home [YES]; Is there a greater duty to retreat on your own property than in your house [NO].

Brown v. United States       1921       256 U.S. 335       285
Is there a duty to retreat when attacked by a man with a knife [NO]; Believing you’re in a mortal conflict, if you fire a shot in the heat of combat, which in cool reflection later may be seen as unnecessary, may you still be acquitted on grounds of self defense [YES]; Is your right of self defense roughly similar in your home, on your land, and at your work [YES]; Can detached reflection be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife [NO].

Gourko v. United States       1894       153 U.S. 183       189
If you shoot someone who has repeatedly threatened you, and the circumstances of the shooting are not found to be justifiable as self defense, does the fact that you armed yourself in response to the threat automatically make the shooting murder (as opposed to manslaughter) [NO].

Logan v. United States       1892       144 U.S. 263       180
Does the 2nd Amendment guarantee a preexisting right recognized by the Constitution, and not a right created by the Constitution [YES]; Is a prisoner in legal custody entitled to protection “while he is deprived of the ordinary means of defending and protecting himself” [YES].

Rowe v. United States       1896       164 U.S. 546       247
If a man is provoked into making a minor assault on someone, and then backs off in good faith, is his right to self defense restored if the person he assaulted attacks him with a deadly weapon? [YES]; Is he required to retreat under such circumstances [NO]; Is he under an obligation to try to only wound an attacker when fighting for his life [NO]; Can either party in a mutual combat claim self defense [NO].

Starr v. United States       1894       153 U.S. 614       196
If a law officer legally serving a warrant shoots at a suspect without identifying himself, is the suspect justified in shooting back and killing the officer in self defense [YES].

Tennessee v. Garner       1985       471 U.S. 1       428
Is the use of deadly force by police to prevent the escape of all felony suspects constitutionally unreasonable [YES]; Is the use of deadly force by a police officer permissible under the 4th Amendment, if necessary to prevent the escape of a felony suspect who threatens the officer with a weapon, or if there is probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, if, where feasible, some warning has been given [YES].

Thompson v. United States       1894       155 U.S. 271       203
Does arming yourself after being threatened, and then traveling the only road in the area where you know your adversary may be, turn a subsequent shooting of the adversary during a confrontation into murder? [NO]; Is arming yourself for legitimate self defense premeditation [NO].

Wallace v. United States       1896       162 U.S. 466       224
Is it up to the jury to decide whether a homicide is murder, manslaughter or justifiable [YES]; Does a perfect right of self defense require blamelessness in the confrontation and an act of necessity only [YES]; Can you claim self defense if you had intentionally brought about a lethal conflict [NO]; Is it up to the jury to decide whether you armed yourself defensively or otherwise [YES]; Is it murder if you enter a quarrel without felonious or malicious intent, and then, under reasonable belief of imminent mortal danger, you kill the assailant [NO]; Does the fact that you deliberately go and arm yourself, for self defense or other innocent purpose, turn a subsequent shooting necessarily from manslaughter to murder [NO].


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