When Reality Meets Fiction: Guns & Vigilante Justice

A sad story playing out in Oklahoma City reminds me of how fiction and reality sometimes collide. Part of my “style” in writing fiction is to make the stories relevant to contemporary times and issues. This is true for my historical novels, like The Pirate of Panther Bay, as well as my contemporary novels like A Warrior’s Soul. In the Pirate of Panther Bay, the story is set in the 1780 Caribbean Sea but the lead character, Isabella, grapples wth very contemporary problems of violence, death, and discrimination. In A Warrior’s Soul, Luke and Lucy struggle with contemporary manifestations of bullying and gang violence.

So, when I heard about Oklahoma City pharmacist Jerome Ersland’s murder conviction last week I had to pause and think about the implications for my characters in A Warrior’s Soul. The AWS trio of friends–Luke, Lucy and Chuck–must grapple with issues like whether weapons should be used (including a gun) to face down tough guy Dirk and and how far they can push their belief that self-defense justifies violence. These are apparently the same questions Ersland faced when two armed robbers broke into his store and he shot and killed one of them. A jury convicted Ersland of first degree murder (murder with the intent to kill).

The case itself is complicated. The problem for Ersland was that he just didn’t chase one of the robbers out of his store. He returned to the one that he apparently injured, and shot him five more times. Ersland claimed the 16 year old was still moving and threatening him, but the prosecutors argued (apparently successfully) that the kid was unarmed and couldn’t have resisted. What made the case worse for Ersland is that he is a former military officer. The jurly likely figured his training prepared him to make decisions in these situations rationally and not out of fear, haste, or emotional distress.

In my martial-arts classes, my instructors continually emphasize the importance of appropriate force when protecting ourselves from an assailant. Our training, when deployed effectively, can kill someone, and we have to take responsibility for the tools and skills we learn. That, I hope is a lesson that comes through in A Warrior’s Soul. Training and preparation are the keys to ensuring we don’t over-react (or under react) under distress and we use appropriate force as a last resort and when no other alternative exists. 

The Ersland case is a strong reminder as a writer that I have certain responsibilities for depicting the action and behavior of my characters. I shoud respect the fact that the consequences of not treating their actions seriously can have tragic implications if they were applied in the real world.

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About SR Staley

SR Staley has one more than 10 literary awards for his fiction and nonfiction writing. His award-winning Pirate of Panther Bay series (syppublishing.com) has won awards in historical fiction, mainstream & literary fiction, young adult fiction, and reached the finals in women's fiction. His most recent book is "The Beatles and Economics: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and the Making of a Cultural Revolution" due out in April 2020 (Routledge).