A 76 year old Massachusetts man has been charged with several crimes after defending himself against a bear in his Auburn backyard. Richard Ahlstrand has been charged with “illegally killing a bear, illegally baiting a bear, illegal possession of a firearm and failing to secure a weapon” according to CBSlocal. The man claims that he would be dead if he had not fired on the bear, while the town’s police Chief is quoted as saying he does not believe the bear was a threat to people. Despite that claim, authorities believe the bear could have had cubs, which would explain the aggression. While the article does not mention the type of bear, typically black bears are the only kind found in Massachusetts. Black bears have killed humans in the past, although it is rare, and when motivated by hunger, will generally back off when a human fights back. It is unclear whether a mother bear protecting her cubs would likewise back off, or if this 76 year old man would have been able to mount enough resistance to scare the bear away.
The claims from the police chief that the bear was not a threat to humans contradicts the claim that she was protecting her cubs, because any large mammal can be a threat to humans when protecting their cubs. Richard claims the bear was almost 7 feet tall on its hind legs, and estimated it weighed between 300-400 pounds. He was outside Friday night filling his bird feeders when he claims the bear approached him and charged him. Ahlstrand says that he had his shotgun with him because he believed he had spotted the bear the previous night. When the bear charged him, he says he did not have enough time to aim through the sights, instead pointing in the general direction of the bears head. Ahlstrand says he feels bad that the bear had cubs, but that he was left with no options but to protect himself. The black bear is the most common species of bear in the world, and considered “Least Concern” in terms of conservation status.
It seems to me that the police are being overzealous in this case for a few reasons. Why charge a man with illegally baiting a bear, when it was only his bird-feeders that would have “baited” her, which are obviously not meant for bears? It seems that they were trying to tack on additional charges, hoping that the man would be punished more severely, when as far as anyone knows, he was simply protecting himself. An environmental authority says that Ahlstrand should have called him to deal with the bear, although the possibility of making that phone call while the bear charges seems unlikely. I suppose the man could have contacted the authorities the first time he suspected seeing the bear, but hindsight is 20/20. Also, if you are aware of many other people’s run ins with the EPA and environmental police, you would know that getting them involved could mean your private property rights go out the window. The bottom line is, you have the right to defend yourself, especially when on your own property.
And onto the illegal possession of a firearm charge. The Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller ruled that the 2nd Amendment grants people the right to possess a firearm for lawful purposes, such as self defense within the home. This was in response to D.C.’s complete handgun ban. Heller had owned a handgun which he was allowed to carry in federal buildings as a special police officer, but was denied a permit to carry the handgun in his home. The court ruled that the 2nd amendment protects an individuals’ right to possess and carry a handgun in the home for lawful purposes. Based on the fact that Ahlstrand was on his own property using the gun for the lawful purpose of defense, his actions were completely protected by the Second Amendment. It is for these reasons that this man should not be charged with “unlawful possession of a firearm”.
Based on information available it appears this man should not be charged with illegally baiting a bear, because he was simply filling a bird feeder. He should also not be charged with illegally killing a bear, as he was acting in self defense. Furthermore the Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller specified that the 2nd amendment protects an individual’s right to carry a firearm for otherwise lawful purposes in the home, therefore making the unlawful possession of a firearm charge not apply. As for the charge of failure to secure a weapon, it is unclear whether this charge was based on the storage of the weapon inside Ahlstrand’s home, or where the weapon was when police arrived. Anyway this man appeared to have been loosely following the advice of Joe Biden who said that we should just go out on our balcony–because we all have balconies–and fire a shotgun into the air a couple times to ward off human threats. It is unclear if the Vice President would suggest the same to ward off threats from mother bears protecting their cubs.