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When to Hit Pause

This past weekend, a Fox News headline about an incident in an Indiana furniture store naturally caught my attention: “Armed furniture store owner fights back would-be robber in Indianapolis.”

It seems that a robber came into a furniture and accessory store and threatened the owner with a gun. After learning the victim had only $10 on him, the robber demanded, at gunpoint, that the owner take him to the office. The owner complied.

Upon reaching the office, the owner discreetly hit his silent alarm button, which alerted the security company and the police. The owner also was able to grab his .40-caliber handgun, at which point the robber immediately bolted for the door.

You can catch the story and surveillance video here.

Happy ending, right? But just as we do when things go wrong, we should also examine cases when things seem to go well even if only to consider what could have gone badly. When you get all the details of this story, you find a number of points at which things could have gone horribly wrong.

For example, as the thief was running through the store toward the front door, the owner admitted that he intended to shoot the retreating thief, but he held back only because he saw a young child outside the door and was afraid of hitting him. Again, it was the right move, all things considered.

But it raises the question of what might have resulted had the store owner taken that shot and wounded or killed the retreating thief. It does not take much imagination to envision some gung-ho, anti-gun prosecutor attacking the defendant in court: “So, even after it was abundantly clear that whatever threat may have existed had ceased, and the alleged assailant was clearly retreating, you decided to become judge, jury and executioner. Does that about sum it up?”

Think that couldn’t have happened? Think again. In this case, the store owner had also claimed that he “knew the guy’s gun wasn’t loaded” before he even retrieved his own gun. Now, when you hear him explain how he “knew” this, you will roll your eyes just as I did.

But that doesn’t matter. The prosecutor would be able to hammer him with it. “And so, you needlessly killed Mr. So-and-so even though you admitted on tape that you already knew he was not a threat.”

And it doesn’t end there. After the robber fled, the store owner and another business owner — who drove up just as the store owner ran out the door — briefly pursued the thief, who apparently had an accomplice. Luckily, the business owners broke off the chase after getting a good look at the suspect’s vehicle. Had the chase ended in a confrontation and perhaps a shootout, the same argument could be made by a state’s attorney that the store owner had needlessly placed himself and his companion into a violent situation long after any threat had ceased.

The video shows the store owner making some rather dubious comments regarding why he believed the robber’s gun was not loaded as well as wildly exaggerated statements regarding the power of his .40-caliber handgun. While you and I might find his statements almost laughable, had he shot and killed anyone, even those comments would be used against him.

We can all learn a couple of lessons from this case. First, when the threat ceases, hit pause. Your right to use deadly force has also ceased. And second, stop talking! Let your lawyer do his or her job.

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