Thursday, January 28, 2010

Guns: A Shooting In Old City

Gerald Ung, a part-time law student at Temple University, allegedly shot a man named Ed DiDonato in Old City, Philadelphia at 2:30 a.m. on January 17, 2010.

The shooting happened to take place outside a news studio, and was caught on surveillance tape.

The facts are still very hazy - Ung supposedly bumped into DiDonato while DiDonato was doing chinups on a piece of scaffolding, there was apparently an argument where DiDonato and his group followed Ung and his date, which eventually led to a confrontation of some sort. All that is certain, really, is that DiDonato found himself lying on the sidewalk with multiple bullets inside him (DiDonato was immediately taken to the hospital; after several surgeries, his condition is still up in the air).

What makes this case relevant to Shangrila Towers is that Gerald Ung had a Virginia carry permit; after he shot DiDonato, he waited at the scene (someone called 911, not clear if it was Ung) and was arrested without incident. Further muddying the waters: DiDonato is a Villanova grad and part of a wealthy Republican family; there's even a PR firm (!) handling their response to the shooting. Final interesting tidbit - Ung is out on 10% of $200,000 bail, despite felony charges that include attempted murder and aggravated assault.

As you might imagine, the shooting has provoked long discussions about when a CCW holder should draw his or her firearm (Maryland Shooters and PAFOA have big threads on the subject, but be prepared to filter out the usual forum noise).


Drawing a firearm is a last resort; we all know that. In every jurisdiction I know of, you can't draw a gun to win an argument, or to look tough. On the other hand, it's not like every bad guy comes at you mano-a-mano, with a loaded gun, so that you have a clear case of self-defense (though sometimes it happens that way):

The real world is a very different place. Imagine you are being followed on a city sidewalk, along with your girlfriend, for a block and a half, by several individuals. What caused them to follow you is indistinct - perhaps some heated words were exchanged, maybe there was some shoving, whatever. But the point is, you're walking away. But they're still following.

These guys aren't armed - no guns, no knives, not even a beer bottle. But they're starting to circle you, and things are obviously going to come to blows pretty soon. Maybe punches have already been thrown...

It's entirely possible that Gerald Ung blew his top and pulled his gun out unreasonably; just because someone is insulting or even threatening to beat you up doesn't necessarily mean you can point a gun at them. And once someone does draw a gun on you, you might be justified in tackling and punching the shooter, like DiDonato might have done, even if you were the one who started the argument. Depending on how the facts pan out, this shooting could be anything from fully justified to sorta justified to not justified at all.

In my view (disclaimer - this is not legal advice), a gang of unarmed people could cause serious bodily injury or death to me just as easily as one guy with a knife or gun. Even a single, unarmed man could rise to that level of threat if he cornered me, I couldn't defend myself with my bare hands, and he engaged in a continous and ongoing assault. Not to mention the fact that if I had a female companion with me, she could easily suffer rape or worse at the hands of a handful of men (it happens all the time).

I'm not saying that's what happened in this case, since no one knows what really happened. Unfortunately, I think the reality is that a CCW is going to have to retreat if possible and take a severe beating (which is inherently dangerous, of course) before a jury would acquit him or her of shooting an unarmed person.

The video is blurry and doesn't give the entire chronology of what happened. I'd imagine that the testimony from the companions of both men would be critical in reconstructing just what happened that night. Whatever the final result, it's clear that the lives of both Ung and DiDonato have been changed forever.

So when is an unarmed threat sufficient to justify deadly force? It's an open question, something to ask yourself if you're ever on the streets at 2 a.m. in Philly.


At 12:47 AM, Blogger Sevesteen said...

I certainly won't argue that shooting someone is a last resort, and will be nasty even if you were in the right.

These guys aren't armed - no guns, no knives, not even a beer bottle

...that you can see. I'm guessing that "these guys" also assume that you are unarmed, and that the three of them will be enough to handle you.

I think in most cases, 3 on one, who follow when you try to leave, and who finally attack (even if only one actually attacks at first) is justification to use deadly force. If that is what happened in this case, I can't see it getting past a grand jury.

At 10:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gerald Ung's friends have started a non-profit corporation accepting donations for his defense at You can also view our event page, volunteer, or leave a comment.

Thank you as well for writing this article. It contains a lot of poignant issues. I was wondering if you would allow this article or portions of it to be published on the "perspective" page of the website. Of course you would retain full copyright, it would link back to your blog page, and we could even write a blurb about you or your blog. Please contact me at the if you are interested. Thanks

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Mulliga said...

Guy brandishing a tire iron would usually equal a clean shoot, since objectively most people would consider that a deadly threat.

Guy with hidden knife in his pocket? I think it's far more hazy - you'd need enough stuff on the surface for an objective conclusion that a weapon was probably hidden (perhaps a verbal threat or physical gesture - like a throat-slitting motion).

I agree that when people follow you, that's usually an indication they're going to beat the ever-loving tar out of you. Heck, even a single guy tailing me aggressively would be cause for alarm.


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