By Rob Morse
Crime happens. That fact is timeless, but it also changes over time. We are not the society we used to be. We might sit on the couch and watch big-city crime shows every night, but most of us know that the police won’t get to us in time to stop a criminal’s violent attack.
Given where we live, the police may be simply too far away. That’s true in rural areas and in small towns across the country. Given reductions in police budgets, it might be true in your city, too.
We also know that fewer criminals are being taken off the streets by our courts. That leaves the responsibility with us to defend ourselves until the police arrive.
This news story took place in a small rural town. It’s unlikely that the town of Ellijay, Georgia has a police force since the population is less than 2000 people. That means law enforcement is probably handled by county sheriff’s deputies or by the state police. This story was nearly over by the time the police arrived on the scene. Put yourself in this situation and see what happened a half hour after sunset last Monday.
A store clerk in a gas station-convenience store knew he had a problem when a customer pulled a gun from their pocket and pointed the gun at the clerk’s head. The robber had underwear around his neck and pulled it up over his face as a disguise. The robber walked behind the counter, pointed a pistol at the clerk’s head and demanded the money in the cash drawer. The store clerk thought the robber might kill him since other robbers have shot and killed store clerks before.
Though neither the robber nor the store clerk knew it at the time, the robber wasn’t the only person with a gun in that rural convenience store. One of the customers there was carrying a concealed handgun. The armed customer heard the clerk cry out. He saw the robber pointing his gun at the store clerk’s head and the mask on the robber’s face.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that scene was a picture of an innocent store clerk facing a lethal threat. The customer believed what he was seeing.
We’re not sure exactly what happened next. We know the armed customer presented his firearm. He told the robber to stop. We don’t know if the customer moved so he was harder to see or harder to shoot. We don’t know if the robber lowered his gun. We know that there were other customers in the store during the robbery, and we don’t know if the armed customer had a clear shot at the robber without putting the store clerk or other innocent parties at risk.
That was when a second customer ran outside and grabbed his handgun from his truck. The second armed customer then ran back inside and also pointed his firearm at the robber. With both armed customers pointing guns at him, the robber inched towards the front door and no one fired.
Details matter and we don’t have security video to show us exactly what happened. The robber was a lethal and immediate threat when he had his firearm pointed at the clerk. It’s arguable that the threat was not immediate if the robber lowered his gun. Even though he was armed, the robber wasn’t an immediate threat if he turned away and was moving toward the door.
A third customer was outside pumping gas during the robbery. He either saw the robbery or saw the second customer get the gun from his truck. The third customer grabbed his firearm and ran inside convenience store. He told the robber to stop.
The robber was surrounded. The robber would become an immediate threat and be shot if he moved toward any of the armed customers or the store clerk. One of the customers told the robber to drop his gun and get on the floor. The robber did so and they took his gun.
The first armed customer told the other defenders to raise their firearms. We’re not sure who called 911.
The robber wasn’t very cooperative when police arrived. He kept trying to run out the door and officers had to tase him in order to put handcuffs on him. The officers secured the attacker’s gun. They also arrested the robber’s wife. She was acting as the getaway driver and was waiting in their car outside the store.
The robber was charged with armed robbery, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The wife was charged with armed robbery. Both remained in jail without bond.
It probably took longer to read this story than it took for the robbery and capture to unfold. If you hadn’t thought about what to do ahead of time, you probably wouldn’t know what to do even if you had a firearm with you.
These points stand out . . .
- Criminal don’t obey gun laws.
- The armed robber was initially a lethal, immediate, and unavoidable threat to an innocent person. That justified the use of force, including lethal force. Said another way, using a gun might have been the safest thing to do.
- Good guys are reluctant to shoot bad guys even when they’re legally justified in doing so.
- Dangerous threats require an immediate response. The first defender didn’t have time to run to his car and get his firearm. Because the first customer was armed, the other customers had time to grab their firearms and respond.
- The robber was no longer a threat when he dropped his gun and laid on the floor. The defenders were wise to take their fingers off their triggers and point their firearms in safer directions. You don’t point a gun at someone if they aren’t a threat.
- The first armed customer may very well have saved the store clerk’s life. The other armed customers allowed the police to capture the criminal.
I don’t want to shoot anyone, but sometimes bad guys need to be shot. The fact is that until he lowered his gun, the robber could have murdered the store clerk. Fortunately verbal commands worked in this case. They don’t work every time. That leaves me with more questions than answers.
Should we use words and try to defuse the situation if a robber is threatening one of our loved ones? Should we pull the trigger if a criminal is threatening a stranger? What changed from one case to the other? I thought I knew the answers, but now I’m not so sure. I bing up those questions precisely because I need to think about them.
We won’t have time to weigh competing arguments when someone screams in fear. Thank you for being one of the good guys who goes armed and who has thought about what to do.
This article originally appeared at Slow Facts and is reprinted here with permission.