EDITOR'S NOTE

Old West Justice?

Guns drawn at the Dollar General

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Last week, two young men walked into a Dollar General store around 9:20 p.m. and pointed two CO2 BB pistols that looked like handguns at the two employees. They wanted money.

One of them escaped and was arrested the next day. The other never left the store. He was shot and killed by a customer.

That customer had stopped at the store on his way home from work that Monday night. His wife had given the 57-year-old business owner and grandfather a list of groceries to pick up on his way home.

When the manager alerted the customer what was happening, the customer walked to the front of the store, pulled out his concealed .45-caliber handgun about 5 feet from the suspects and ordered the two men to drop their weapons.

Rakeem Deveal Odoms, 22, did not drop the BB pistol he was pointing at the store manager. The customer fired three times, apparently hitting the suspect twice, and Odoms died at the scene of wounds to his head, chest and shoulder.

“He put himself in harm’s way by getting involved,” homicide Lt. Rob Schoonover told The Florida Times-Union. “To me, that is an extraordinary person to do that.”

Extraordinary is one word you could use. Vigilante is another.

That’s how City Councilmember Denise Lee described the incident at a recent council meeting. “We have vigilantes out there,” she said.

“People are afraid. We need police officers on the street,” she said, making her case for allowing the sheriff to carry over $10.5 million in savings from this year’s budget and use it in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

That’s good timing for the sheriff, who got what he wanted. And, as for the customer, he’s a hero, right?

He is if the comments on the Jacksonville.com story are any indication:

“I’d like to get that grandfather’s signature. He’s my hero.”

“[Kudos] to the guy with the CWP [concealed weapons permit] and the guts to use it. We need more like him!”

The police seem to agree.

“The citizen did not get shot, none of the employees were hurt, this worked out good tonight,” Schoonover told the Times-Union. “To us, he prevented any other violence from happening.”

Schoonover said the manager and clerk in the store could have been harmed. Yes, they could have been harmed by the customer with the .45-caliber handgun.

Apparently this customer is a marksman who shoots in competition. Schoonover even praised the man for using good restraint in not shooting at the fleeing suspect, 19-year-old Aundre Krishna Campbell. The customer had a permit to carry a concealed firearm.

This is exactly the kind of situation that gun rights advocates use to bolster their argument that guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens save lives. They may indeed add this story to their arsenal.

But it doesn’t always work out that way, even when professionals are doing the shooting. Earlier this month, nine bystanders were wounded by police gunfire, ricochets and fragments while police were trying to stop Jeffrey Johnson, who had just killed a former co-worker in front of the Empire State Building in New York City.

Many have posited that if someone besides James Holmes had been carrying a gun in that Aurora, Colo., movie theater on July 20, fewer people would have been killed or wounded. Or it could have been much worse.

Most law enforcement professionals tell people “don’t be a hero” when faced with an armed robber. It’s better to lose your money than your life.

In this case, the customer probably didn’t realize these two young men were holding BB guns instead of the real thing. For whatever reason, the two men were desperate enough or stupid enough to add guns to a crime, heightening the risk and the possible punishment. Police picked up Campbell on an unrelated burglary warrant. Because his accomplice Odoms died during the crime, Campbell is charged with felony murder in addition to robbery.

Too often the gun argument comes down to an all-or-nothing tug of war. Of course law-abiding citizens have the right to own guns. But it’s also true that the enormous supply and ease of buying guns makes the United States more dangerous than countries where firearms have more restrictions.

Maybe Chris Rock had the right idea when he said what we really need is bullet control. “I think every bullet should cost $5,000,” Rock said in a comedy routine. “’Cause if a bullet cost $5,000 there’d be no more innocent bystanders.”

The customer who killed Odoms might not have done anything wrong — many people think he did everything right — but the scene does feel like something out of the Old West. Even the store’s name could have come out of a Jesse James story.

Meanwhile, the grandfather must deal with the consequences of his actions.

His son told the Times-Union that his father was thrust into the situation.

“He’s got to deal with taking someone else’s life.”

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