It has become almost a cliche - some miserable street thug finally picks on the wrong person, gets shot for his troubles, and is then posthumously elevated to near sainthood by the local media. The TV crews run to interview the sobbing mother, predictably declaring that "he was a good boy" who "didn't deserve to die."
Then there will be the somber comments by various friends (their gang colors covered up for the camera) describing the now deceased perpetrator as one step removed from Mother Theresa. And even if his record of gang activity and drug use runs to multiple pages, they will talk about how he was "just turning his life around."
Case in point. On Thursday evening last week, a Minnesota man with a legal permit to carry a handgun came upon a woman who had just been robbed by a couple of street toughs (reportedly one male and one female). Without thought for his own safety, he reacted instinctively - he chased after the male thief who ran off with the victim's purse.
As he rounded the corner at the rear of a nearby Chinese Restaurant, he came face to face with the perpetrator, who told him, "mind your own f---king business, a--hole!" while pointing a gun at the Good Samaritan. Almost reflexively, the permit holder drew and fired his own gun several times, fatally wounding the thug. He then dutifully called police, and remained at the scene until they arrived.
Happy ending, right? Well, that remains to be seen. Because in today's world, where violent criminals are often portrayed as victims, the use of lethal force, even in circumstances that most normal people would agree warranted it, will subject the armed citizen to the most intense scrutiny by the police, prosecutors, and judges. And a jury is seldom any better, often second-guessing the actions of any "Good Samaritan" to the point of absurdity.
Now, I have been a fiream instructor for more than 30 years, and I have trained more than 3000 people to obtain a Minnesota Permit to Carry a Pistol. We generally discourage people from chasing after a criminal - not only might it be portrayed in court as "retribution" rather than self defense, it can also get you killed. Even police are reluctant to chase a suspect into a potential ambush situation alone - they almost always call for back-up and cordon off the surrounding area.
But this most recent case brings into sharp focus just how far we have strayed from our roots when it comes to our views of crime. A hundred years ago, a citizen who observed a purse-snatching and chased and nabbed the thief would have been immediately praised for "doing the right thing" - in fact, any man who stood by passively and allowed it to happen would likely be viewed with disdain by his fellow citizens. He might even have been branded an outright coward.
Compare that to today, when anyone who uses a firearm to defend himself or others is apt to be the focus of a much deeper investigation than the thief, rapist, or armed robbers who attack them. And rather than praise from the community, a Good Samaritan is more likely to be seen as "foolhardy" or decried as a "vigilante."
As with any fatal confrontation, in this case there will likely be a Grand Jury hearing, if only to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's" and get everything on the record. A grand jury is made up of ordinary citizens who merely look at the basic facts of a case, and decide whether or not a trial is warranted, and what charges might be appropriate. And while it is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty how it will turn out, some of the elements of this case are on the side of the Good Samaritan.
First, the permit holder apparently came on the scene just after the robbery took place, so he did not realize that the fleeing thief was armed. Thus he did not knowingly place himself at risk of serious harm - a potentially important legal point.
Second, with the victim of the robbery having been a 50-something woman, especially one who had been viciously pistol-whipped, it places prosecutors in the rather unpopular position of going after the very man who attempted to come to her aid. Not very good PR.
Finally, the dead thug in this case was already on probation for two prior crimes. The criminal record of the deceased perpetrator is not technically germane to the case, and likely not admissible. But it would be almost impossible to hide from the jury pool, which would cause a significant problem for the prosecution, should they decide to go to trial.
As with all things legal, we will have to wait to see what happens in this case, but we can hope that, for once at least, common sense and justice take precedence over the desire of prosecutors to rack up another conviction.
Besides, it is long past the time that we send a message to those who rob, rape, beat and kill that it may be more costly than they anticipated.
John Caile - HAVEGUNWILLVOTE
10/31/2011 - Update: Authorities announced that no charges will be filed against the Good Samaritan in this case. While it is too soon to be called a trend, it is an indication that things just might be moving in the right direction. Time will tell.