Listen to this article

When Keli Calderone became involved in a dispute with a fellow motorist, she didn’t realize that what she viewed as acting in self-defense would cause her to be charged with attempted murder, lead to dismissal from her job and prompt her to file a civil rights lawsuit in federal court.

Calderone, ultimately, was found not guilty of the criminal charge and was reinstated to her job. But the lawsuit Calderone filed to vindicate her constitutional right to defend herself with a legally possessed firearm was dismissed.

U.S. Judge Thomas Durkin recently found that citizens have the right to bear arms and that the right to bear arms presupposes actions in self-defense. But he said the proper uses of a firearm is a matter of individual states’ criminal and tort laws not contemplated by the Second Amendment.

“Considering the variety of self-defense law historically across the nation, it is unlikely that the Second Amendment was intended to reach this area of law customarily left to the state to regulate through criminal and tort law. The court is unaware of any authority indicating that the Second Amendment is relevant to the question of under what circumstances violent action is legally justified as self-defense,” he said.

Like many criminal and civil cases that end up in the courts, Calderone’s federal case represents the culmination of a series of misjudgments by the various parties involved.

Here’s what happened:

On July 19, 2017, Calderone became involved in an altercation with another driver that degenerated into a full-scale fight after both pulled off the road and confronted each other. After exchanging insults with Calderone, the other driver tried to leave the scene in her car, only to be physically blocked by Calderone.

Then the other driver got out of her car, pushed Calderone and threw her to the ground.

After shooting the other driver, Calderone was charged with attempted murder.

Before her trial could be held, Calderone was fired from her job as a police dispatcher, the city basing its decision on her violation of state law, her discourteous treatment of a “member of the public,” “provoking or inciting” a member of the public and “conduct unbecoming” a public employee.

After her dismissal, Calderone went to trial on the attempted murder charge. She argued she acted in self-defense and was found not guilty.

Calderone subsequently won reinstatement to her job and the city held a hearing to determine how much back pay she was entitled to receive for time she missed at work.

All things considered, Calderone got out of a big mess in pretty good shape.

Not satisfied, she sued the city of Chicago for violating her civil rights by firing her for what she argued is her constitutional right not just to possess a firearm but use it in self-defense.

The question Durkin confronted was whether Calderone was engaged in a constitutionally “protected activity” and whether the city fired her for engaging in a constitutionally protected activity. He said the answer is “no” to both questions.

Durkin said individuals certainly have the right to possess a firearm for self-defense. Then again, just what constitutes self-defense?

That, he said, is not a constitutional question, but a statutory question.

“... there is a wide variety across the nation in the types and amounts of force that may be used, the necessity of retreat, the rights of aggressors, the availability of the ‘castle doctrine,’ and so forth. The starkest being the existence of ‘stand your ground’ laws in some states but not others. And not only are the statutory and common law standards different among jurisdictions, but judicial opinions and jury verdicts applying these standards do not always treat actions alike,” he wrote.

If Calderone had not lost on the constitutional point, she would have lost other grounds.

Durkin said it was “simply not plausible” that the city fired Calderone for defending herself against “imminent harm.” He asserted the city fired her for “extremely poor judgment and the overall outrageous nature of her conduct, regardless of whether her decision to fire a gun was ultimately determined to be legally justified in the context of a criminal case.”

It is, of course, on the back of bad judgment that litigation thrives. Calderone could have avoided the confrontation. The city could have waited for the outcome of her criminal trial before dismissing her.

Then there would have been no trouble and no appeal. Calderone’s lawyer said it’s his intention to ask a federal appeals court to review Durkin’s ruling.

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.