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"Maybe they're watching too much TV"

by Robert A. Waters


On October 16, 2000, a clerk at a St. Louis liquor store shot and killed an armed robber. According to the Post-Dispatch, this was "the fifth alleged robber fatally shot in unrelated episodes in St. Louis within the past three weeks."

Incredibly, a homicide investigator expressed his concern over the rash of self-defense shootings. "I don't understand it," he said. "Maybe they're [the victims] watching too much TV."

Let's examine what happened.

At 11:15 p.m., Cortez A. Westley, a seventeen-year-old crack dealer, entered Ja-Mar's Liquor Store. Wearing a bandanna over his face, the robber pointed a semiautomatic handgun at the clerk, whose name was not released. When he demanded money, she reached beneath the cash register and retrieved her own pistol. A single shot to the forehead ended the teenage thug's budding criminal career.

In response to the investigator's implied criticism, the clerk said, "I didn't do anything wrong. It was self-defense. I'd rather him be laying there than me."

Surveys have shown that up to ninety-three percent of police officers below the rank of captain view armed citizens as allies in the fight against crime.

The reaction of Las Vegas District Attorney Ronald C. Bloxham to a recent self-defense shooting is more indicative of law enforcement's attitude.

On July 19, 2000, an intruder broke into a residence near Desert Inn Road in Las Vegas. The homeowner awoke, heard a noise, and retrieved a handgun. Opening the door to his den, he was confronted by an intruder. The man pulled a gun and fired three shots. The homeowner returned fire, then called police. Investigators found the assailant dead on the floor of the den, a smoking gun still clutched in his hand.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, this was the eighth self-defense shooting in the city in three years.

District Attorney Bloxham summed it up this way. "I was born and raised in Las Vegas," he said, "and it does seem like [now] you see a lot of situations like this. I think the public is starting to protect themselves more."

The police, no matter how dedicated, can't protect everyone. In fact, courts have consistently ruled that law enforcement agencies are not obligated to protect individual citizens. The job of the police is to investigate crimes and apprehend those who commit them. If, by causing a criminal to be incarcerated, they keep some crimes from being committed, then they've done their job.

Many citizens know this and make arrangements to protect themselves.

During a week-long killing spree in February, 2000, five convenience store clerks in Harris County, Texas were murdered by robbers. The police, frustrated by their inability to stop the slaughter, began staking out as many stores as their manpower would allow.

But when the shootings continued, convenience store owners and workers held a rally to call public attention to their plight. However, what went unpublicized was that many employees resolved to fight back.

The Wednesday following the rally, a Vietnamese storeowner shot one of two armed robbers who tried to hold up his store.

Then, three days later, two men entered the Tex-Mex Food Store in Houston. As the men walked up to the counter, Napel Ghani saw that one had a gun concealed inside his coat. Speaking in Arabic, Napel told his mother, who was also working that night, about the weapon he'd spotted.

When the robber pulled his gun and aimed it at Napel, the clerk grabbed the man's hand. This gave Nora time to reach for her .38-caliber revolver. The robber then spun away from Napel and pointed his gun at Nora.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Napel described what happened next. "I was going over the counter to her when I heard the shot," he said. "I just froze. All the strength flowed out of me. I thought it was her, that she'd been shot."

But Tyrone Marvin Bailey was the one who'd taken the bullet. He and the second robber fled the store. Bailey ran about one hundred feet, then collapsed dead on the sidewalk.

"As soon as she saw the muzzle of [the robber's] gun, she shot," Napel said. Unlike the St. Louis detective, Houston police credited Nora with saving both their lives.

After the two self-defense shootings, armed robberies of convenience stores in Houston tapered off for several months.

And so it goes. Every day in America, a guerilla war rages back and forth. Hardened criminals attacking peaceful citizens. And innocent victims fighting back.

And every day, cops man the body bags. They see the bloody corpses, the mutilated rape victims, the children who have been brutalized. They listen to the sobs of family members who have lost loved ones, and hear pathological monsters explain why their victims deserved to die. At the end of the day, most cops conclude that citizens should have the right to use whatever resource is available to stop criminal attacks.

A few officers--one being the St. Louis detective--reach different conclusions. Like Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and Dan Rather, they think citizens should be disarmed.

Maybe they're watching too much TV.

Robert A. Waters is author of the book, The Best Defense: True Stories of Intended Victims Who Defended Themselves with a Firearm, Cumberland House Publishing, Inc., 1998. Further articles from Mr. Waters can be viewed in his online archives at