Home Is Where the Hurt Is

Colorado’s Make My Day law was designed to protect homeowners who were forced to kill in self-defense. Here’s who it’s really helped.

A visitor would have to look hard for evidence of violence among the family photos and other collectibles in Fehr's trailer, but it's there. Above and to the right of his computer, a picture of him as a young man covers a ragged hole ripped by a shotgun blast. Underneath his desk, a cardboard storage trunk sports a neat round hole where a .357 bullet punctured the side.

The holes are nearly three years old. "It was December 21," Fehr remembers. "I was sitting right here at my desk. A guy knocks on the door once, and I thought it was a mistake, so I didn't answer it. The second time, though, I opened the door. And this guy sucker-punches me. I fell back and grabbed my shotgun that I kept here under my desk."

The gun, given to him by a neighbor, was a .20-gauge single shot, sawed off -- specifically modified for home protection. The intruder, later identified as Anthony Gutierrez, a young man with a history of drug use and a stranger to Fehr, grabbed the barrel of the gun and yanked it. The weapon discharged into the trailer wall. Fehr let go of the gun and ran to the back of the trailer toward his bedroom, where he kept his .357 Smith & Wesson handgun.

He'd purchased the gun five years earlier for home protection backup, a process he remembers as being uncomfortably easy. "I walked into Gart Bros. with $500 in my pocket," he recalls. "I looked over the handguns and walked out with a .357 and 200 rounds of ammo. I filled out exactly one piece of paper. It was amazing. If you ask me, the laws ought to be tighter; there's a lot of dirtbags out there."

With Gutierrez -- who was later found to be high on crack -- pursuing him through the trailer, Fehr turned and fired a rapid three shots. The first went through Gutierrez's leg and lodged in the storage trunk. The second penetrated his stomach; that bullet exited Fehr's trailer and entered his neighbor's bedroom. The third shot pierced Gutierrez's chest and sliced through his heart. Gutierrez died as he fell through Fehr's doorway, still holding on to the shotgun.

Today the whole incident has an air of unreality to it for Fehr -- partly because his thick glasses had been knocked off during the initial confrontation. Still, he says, "You know what? I really wasn't scared. It was like an automatronic thing.

"When it was over, I lay my gun down here on my desk and called the cops. They came and took me to the station -- I got the whole Murder One thing: They handcuffed me, grilled me for five hours, put me in a paper suit. But two days later, at home, I get a fruit basket from Lakewood police dispatch. It must have cost $75! It was nice of them."

Even nicer, about three weeks later he got a call from the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office saying he would not be charged in Gutierrez's death. "I had known about the Make My Day law before this," Fehr says. "Now I'm glad it was there."

Since the attack, Fehr has gotten rid of the shotgun, though not because of any feelings of guilt or remorse or fear: He traded it to a neighbor in exchange for a brake job on his car. The .357 remains loaded and on a shelf above his bed, within easy reach. "I'm ready, let's say that," he says.

Fehr says he hopes he doesn't have to shoot another person, much less kill him. But, he adds, he's had no trouble getting over the death of Anthony Gutierrez. "I really haven't lost any sleep over it," he says.

The same can't be said of Francis Boutcher. "I try to dismiss it from my mind," says the 78-year-old Longmont resident. "But I think about it. Sometimes, when I try to lie down and get a good night's sleep, it comes to me. I try to lead a halfway Christian life. The Bible tells you, 'Thou shalt not kill.' But when it comes to protecting your home and family..."

Boutcher got his first firearm at the age of twelve, when he lived on a farm in north Texas. Later he collected more guns, which he first used for hunting and then, as he aged, for target practice. "I had no plan on ever using a gun for self-defense," he says.

That changed on the night of May 13, 1990, when eighteen-year-old Jacobo Griego broke into Boutcher's home. "My wife woke me up and said, 'There's someone in the kitchen breaking dishes,'" he recalls. "I got the key and unlocked my gun cabinet and took out my gun." It was already loaded, since "an empty gun is no earthly good to anyone."

Boutcher confronted Griego, speaking with him well before any shots were fired. "I pleaded with the man to throw up his hands," he says. He fired two warning shots into the air. But when it appeared that Griego wasn't going to leave, Boutcher leveled his gun and pulled the trigger a third time. "I usually hit what I'm aiming for," he says. The shot exploded into Griego's head, killing him as instantly as death can come.

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