President Abraham Lincoln is famously quoted as saying that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. His words of advice are pertinent to dealing with today’s news media on issues related to firearms. It doesn’t matter what you say or how carefully you say it; the media will frequently misreport it, resulting in undesirable consequences.1

Turning Your Words On You

As a practicing attorney with more than 20 years of experience, I know that it is rarely in anyone’s best interest to talk to the press about any aspect of any legal case. That is true both before and after the jury has spoken. It doesn’t matter if you are the plaintiff or the defendant, a lawyer or an expert — the media is usually not your friend.

That’s not necessarily because the press corps is purposefully slanting the truth but rather because journalists and reporters, like everyone else, are human, work under time constraints and rarely, if ever, get the whole story. It would also be disingenuous to suggest that there are not some reporters out there who do slant the truth and inject their biases into stories.

If you analyze most any news story on a controversial topic where someone is interviewed, you get the meat of the interview in the first five or six paragraphs. Following that, you get the opposing view a few paragraphs later. Reporters write stories, and editors edit them for both brevity and clarity. Sometimes brevity is the enemy of clarity.

The press pays homage to the marauding “victim” while demonizing the self-defender who was doing no more than preventing his or her own (illegal) demise.

A friend of mine, who is a litigator, tells the story of a case he had where the reporter confused state statutes and federal regulations. The reporter did not understand the documents filed with the court and, as a result, got the story nearly as wrong as it could possibly be. The worst part is that the reporter attributed to my litigator friend certain comments about the judge that he had not made. My friend had to explain that to a very upset judge.

The reporter wasn’t trying to cause trouble. He later explained that he had a deadline and an editor cut certain sentences out of his piece to make space. For that reason, my friend has adopted a rule: Never talk to the press. Self-defenders should adopt the same strategy.

Consider Point of View

Imagine what lessons we would all learn from Little Red Riding Hood if the story were told from the wolf’s point of view. The woodsman who rescued the young girl would be described as an ax-wielding madman, while the wolf would be described as a “nice, regular guy” out for a walk in the woods.2 This has become all too common in a self-defense situation, with the press paying homage to the marauding “victim” while demonizing the self-defender who was doing no more than preventing his or her own (illegal) demise.

Where there are strong emotions on both sides of the case, the media often adds fuel to the fire rather than allowing it to burn itself out. As before, this isn’t necessarily out of some animus toward self-defenders. The media’s job conflicts with the job of the attorneys and the defendants. The self-defender and his or her attorneys want to avoid sensationalized coverage. The media’s job is to create sensationalized coverage. Since the media gets the last word on the subject, the defender often suffers as a result.

It is also important to remember that when a family member dies, especially when he or she was engaged in wrongdoing, relatives don’t want to remember the bad things the individual has done. They lost someone they loved who, though flawed, was part of the family. As a result, when the media goes looking for the “other side of the story,” it frequently talks to the criminal’s family — and the results are often cringeworthy.

Family Grief in the Media

Take, for example, the case of Roosevelt Rappley. The 23-year-old Rappley was in the mood for a quick cash infusion and stopped by a Dollar General store in Dayton, Ohio, to refill his wallet by asking for money while pointing a loaded gun at the clerk. The clerk, believing his life was in danger, pulled his own gun and shot Rappley.

Rappley staggered outside and collapsed as a result of his wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene. Ordinarily, the sad end of a young man’s life would be nothing more than a cautionary tale for others considering a similar life of crime, but Rappley would make his family famous in a different way.

The media found and talked to Rappley’s family after the shooting. Certainly, they were upset at the loss of a loved one. The felon’s sister told local media that Rappley had “some responsibility, but not all.” She said it was wrong for the clerk to shoot her brother in chest. “Yes, he’s robbing them,” she stated in the interview, “Oh, well! Call the police, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re not supposed to take matters into your own hands.” The media failed to point out that a person has to be alive, afterward, to call the police. That point may have been lost on the reporter.3

You might be inclined to think those ridiculous sentiments are the unique product of the grief of a single sibling, but you’d be wrong. Adric White, an 18-year-old resident of Baldwin County, Alabama, was out on bond after having been arrested for robbing the Original Oyster House at gunpoint a little more than a month earlier. He went into the Family Dollar store in Mobile, pointed a gun at the store clerk, forced the clerk to his knees and demanded money. An unnamed defender intervened and ordered White to drop the weapon.

A sane person engaged in a violent felony who hears “drop the weapon” from behind does what he or she is told. Not Mr. White. Instead, he wheeled around and pointed the weapon at the defender. The defender fired five times. Wounded and in pain, White was taken to the hospital and survived the shooting.

Playing on Trauma

But channeling Don Henley’s song, “Dirty Laundry,” the local Fox station shared the robber’s parents’ point of view, saying they were “livid that their son was shot while pointing a gun in someone’s face.” Mom and Dad, however, had the good sense to tell the station not to air their footage.

Think about that for a moment. Rather than be horrified that their son put a gun to a man’s head, forced him to his knees and was apparently committing his second armed robbery in a month, the family lashed out at the man who saved the store clerk’s life — and the press encouraged them to do so. One can only imagine the distress of the reporter, having “gotten the widow on the set” as instructed by Henley, being told the footage would never air.4

Undaunted, the media pursued other family members. “If [the customer’s] life was not in danger, if no one had a gun up to him, if no one pointed a gun at him — what gives him the right to think that it’s OK to just shoot someone?” an anonymous relative told the local television station. “You should have just left the store and went wherever you had to go in your car or whatever.” HuffPost reprinted the story, giving the ridiculous statement national play and causing thousands of people to shake their heads in disbelief.5

Clearly, White’s family members weren’t thinking straight. The man was a serial robber. He was holding a gun and using it to commit a robbery. And the family said everyone should have just ignored the obvious and gone about their business. Instead of pushing back and challenging the family on the facts, the media let the statement stand, thereby making fools of the family.

If the media is willing to do that to a traumatized family, think what they’d be willing to do to you.

Better To Be Safe Than Sorry

In the Rappley and White shootings, no charges were brought against the defenders. White was charged and jailed without bond. But the media chose to play up the most ridiculous elements of the story rather than state what should have been obvious: that had the good Samaritan not been there, there would likely have been a dead store clerk.

In the White case, the defender was interviewed by the local news station, but his identity was not disclosed. If he had had an attorney, the attorney would never have allowed that interview to take place.

Fortunately for the defender, the local news station only quoted him this way: “‘He had the gun to his head. He had him on his knees,’ said the good Samaritan, who wished to remain anonymous. ‘I drew my gun on him and I said, “Hey don’t move.” At that point, he swung around, and before he had a chance to aim the gun at me, I fired. I didn’t want to shoot him.’”

Those statements directly support a claim of defense of others. But the problem arises in the fact that the station doubtless edited down 10 minutes of video to a 10-second sound bite. The other nine minutes and 50 seconds of the interview might well have contained statements that could have been harmful to his case of self-defense or defense of others.

No attorney wants to deal with the problems that come from spontaneous statements made in the aftermath of an adrenaline dump when someone is dealing with conflicting thoughts and powerful emotions. Follow your training and tell the police enough to support your claim of self-defense. Then tell them you need to speak with your lawyer. Silence is golden, and speaking to the media is fool’s gold. Fifteen minutes of fame is not worth 15 years of your life.

Don’t Risk It

Police reports are public information. The media frequently obtain such reports legally in order to find and interview persons involved in self-defense shootings. For a person who is not represented, this is a potential trap. While a person does not have to say anything to the police, anything he or she says to others is fair game.6

As mentioned previously, all too often the media makes mistakes in transcription or, worse, subtly changes a quote to give it more of a “punch.” While that makes for good entertainment, it doesn’t always make it easy for a prosecutor to decline prosecution if the media is tarring a shooter as a vigilante (or worse).

It isn’t that reporters and journalists can’t be trusted. It’s that they have a product to sell. One old adage is that “if it bleeds, it leads.” That’s because the job of the media is to sell advertising, and what sells advertising is interesting and sensational stories.

If you are asked for a media interview, the decision of whether to participate should be based solely on the advice of counsel. If you contradict previous statements or come off as flippant (or, worse, arrogant), you can set back your defense. For that reason, if your lawyer tells you not to talk to the press (and he or she certainly will), take this advice. Better for people to think you a fool than to talk yourself into a situation from which your lawyers can’t shield you.


(1) See also Proverbs 17:28. This goes along with the advice that you should never get into an argument with an idiot because an observer might not be able to tell which of you is the idiot.

(2) Dr. Hannah B. Harvey, a professor and professional storyteller, reveals that the original version of Little Red Riding Hood featured not a wolf but a werewolf, from whence it derived its ability to talk.

(3) Chris Enloe, “Family of armed robber outraged that store clerk shot and killed their brother in self-defense: ‘Yes, he’s robbing them — oh well!,’”, Oct. 13, 2019,; Mitch McKinley, “Armed robber shot and killed. Family blames the clerk, saying he shouldn’t have had a weapon at work,” Law Enforcement Today, Oct. 13, 2019,

(4) “An item from the ‘truth is much stranger than fiction’ department,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Dec. 31, 2013,

(5) Sebastian Murdock, HuffPost, Sept. 27, 2021,

(6) It is the statement of a person who will ultimately be a party in a criminal case. It isn’t covered by the hearsay rule and can be admitted at trial.