Tragedy Turns Inspirational for E&H Student

Posted on: Thursday, June 20th, 2013 by Brent Treash

In January of 2009, Brendon Barker was shot in the head by his girlfriend’s father in a small Virginia town. Moments after the shooting, a caller calmly told a 911 dispatcher, "I shot an intruder in my home."

The community was quickly divided into two camps: those who thought the killer had a right to protect what was “his,” and those who demanded justice for what they believed was an inexcusable act of violence. 

During the trial, the defense attorney argued that the father frustrated by his inability to keep his daughter and her boyfriend, whom he accused of supplying her with drugs, apart. The father was ultimately found guilty of second-degree murder and ordered to serve nine years in prison. The sentence was less than a quarter of the maximum allowed by state law.

Current E&H student Colin Christensen was a classmate and friend of the young man who was killed. He spent every minute of the three-day trial in the courtroom.

“One of the primary facets of the defense's argument relied on a firm belief in the Castle Doctrine, a common law theory of self-defense that allows home dwellers to use deadly force to protect themselves and their homes,” said Christensen.

The experience of those three days nearly four years ago inspired him to write an article exploring the recent Supreme Court rulings on the Second Amendment, a work that has taken Christensen to prestigious conferences and led to recognitions by the prestigious Columbia Undergraduate Law Review.

Christenson studied two cases --  the District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago -- in the context of the common law theory of the Castle Doctrine.

“I argue that the Court relies so heavily on aspects of the common law in order to construct a constitutional right to armed self-defense that they create a fundamental kinship between the Second Amendment and the Castle Doctrine, thus constructing a capricious opening through which the Castle Doctrine may gain constitutional authority,” explained Christensen. 

Christensen feels that many scholars are asking the wrong questions about the Second Amendment and gun control policies on a national level. He feels the question is less about whether or to what extent we should or should not have firearms, but instead why we should or should not.

“My article aims to penetrate the Court's reasoning for why the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to firearm ownership in order to expose a potential trajectory for the future of Second Amendment doctrine that may have particularly dubious effects,” said Christensen. 

He initially began writing this article for a presentation at the National Collegiate Honors Council 2012 annual conference in Boston. After presenting the work in poster format in Boston, he was accepted to present the paper at the Southern Political Science Association annual conference in Orlando. It’s an experience that Christenson calls one of the most terrifying moments of his life.

“I was one of the only undergraduate students at the conference,” recalls Christensen. “From my fellow panelists, to the discussant, to the audience members, each individual in the room had a Ph.D. - except for me. It was certainly a trial by fire.”

Christensen used the feedback he received from these experiences to craft a submission for the Columbia Undergraduate Law Review. His expectations were low, but he was curious to see what would happen.

Working with Joe Lane, director of the honors program at Emory & Henry College, Christensen spent the next eight months editing the paper. They poured over each draft with a critical eye for the smallest details.

“Dr. Lane pushed my thinking every step of the way during this process, but I think that’s the kind of critical feedback that made the article publishable,” said Christensen.

Christensen’s article was one of only four accepted for the spring issue. The other authors in the spring issue represent Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Georgetown. 

“I think what makes this article so amazing is that this is so completely Colin's idea and his own work,” said Lane.  “He came up with this idea on his own, proposed it to me, and asked me if we could do an independent study on the topic, but he was very independent.”

“This article is one of the proudest accomplishments of my life,” added Christensen.

More importantly he says, the article gives him a sense of closure from his friend’s death. “It was his memory that pushed me through the days when I just wanted to throw the paper away and never touch it again.” 

To read the complete paper, visit http://blogs.cuit.columbia.edu/culr/issues/.