Kudos to CNN for covering this story out of Georgia, especially in this political atmosphere. As politicians insist that so-called “assault weapons” are not legitimate self-defense firearms, one man may have proven them wrong. Police now believe that a homeowner armed with a “semi-automatic rifle” acted in self-defense in killing three teenage intruders after they opened fire on him:

A Georgia homeowner shot and killed three teens as they approached his residence with their faces covered, authorities said.

The masked teens — a 15-year-old and two 16-year-olds — approached three residents around 4 a.m. Monday at the front yard of a home just outside Conyers and tried to rob them, the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office said.

One of the would-be robbers took out a gun and fired shots at them before one of the residents returned fire, authorities said.

“The victims of the attempted robbery were all uninjured, but the three attempted robbery suspects were all shot during the exchange of gunfire and succumbed to their injuries, one on scene and two at a local hospital after being transported,” the sheriff’s department said in a news release.

So far the exact type of weapon used in self-defense has not been identified. However, a neighbor described the sound as an “assault weapon,” and WSB-TV in Atlanta confirmed it to be a long-barrel semi-automatic:

A neighbor heard the gunfire and ran out to help.

“It was five shots and then it sounded like a handgun. Then I heard somebody have an assault rifle. And it was a slew of shots that came out,” neighbor Carlos Watson said.

Deputies say they still don’t know who owned the two guns they found.

Investigators say three people were at the home, including a woman, when the shooting happened.

The homeowner who shot the masked intruder is a man. Neighbors say he’s a truck driver who owns a semi-automatic rifle and is highly protective of his mother.

This is nothing to gloat about. It’s an immense tragedy for all involved, as the woman interviewed makes very clear. The homeowner is apparently a nice and generous man in addition to being protective of his mother, and will have to live with this outcome for the rest of his life. Three teens who might otherwise have had promise are now dead. Furthermore, police will continue to investigate this for some time, and the details may change significantly. If the homeowner did not act lawfully, we’ll know soon enough.

However, let’s put this tragedy in its proper perspective, at least for what we know at the moment. The three teens started this incident by showing up in masks and opening fire on the homeowner and residents. Regardless of whether they were teens or not, they were trying to rob and kill people. That’s the clear conclusion when people fire bullets at other people, after all. Don’t start trouble and there won’t be trouble — and then you never have to worry about having “ran into a man with a bigger gun.”

The homeowner has the natural and legal right to use lethal force in self-defense to the point where the obvious threat to his life and others is stopped. Despite the angry protests from friends and family of these teens, self-defense is not limited to the same number or caliber of shots fired at victims. Proportionality is calculated to the reasonable threat, not the specifics of the lethal response. Having a more powerful and accurate weapon, whether it can be classified as an “assault weapon” or not, likely saved the lives of the homeowner and residents in this instance — along with better expertise in using it, one might imagine.

The problem with higher-powered and more accurate firearms isn’t that law-abiding citizens own them. It’s that too many criminals get their hands on them, and usually after having been cycled several times through the criminal justice system. We need to focus on the criminals, not the caliber and capacity of common-use weapons and magazines people own — and sometimes have to use — for self-defense.

Update: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Great to have you here with us again.