Three cheers for the jewelry shop owner in Bethesda who fought back against armed robbers {front page, June 17}. At a time when crime in this country threatens to tear our society apart, law-abiding citizens sometimes have to stand up for themselves.

If criminal charges are brought against Vahag Babayan for using deadly force to stop the armed robbers, the wrong message will be sent to the criminal element of society. DAVID CONGOUR Alexandria

I was astonished to read that Montgomery County may prosecute Mr. Babayan. After all, it was gold that was stolen, not bubble gum.

JAMES BILLINGER Reston

Many otherwise reasonable and law-abiding people would like to applaud the recent action of the Bethesda jewelry store owner who shot a man who robbed him at gunpoint. Frustrated with the criminal justice system's inability to stem a rising tide of (mostly drug-related) crime, they say that armed criminals deserve no quarter, no restraint on the part of a violated citizenry, despite whatever the law actually states. They say that the store owner is a hero.

I say he is a criminal, no better than the robber he killed.

Look at the facts: after being robbed by a lone gunman, the store owner chased him down a crowded Bethesda street, firing once. The robber then got into the driver's side of a car, which contained another man (an amputee with crutches) in the passenger seat. The store owner shot both men, after which they drove wildly off, hitting five other cars before coming to a halt. Both the robber and his passenger died.

Before you say the store owner is a hero, answer these questions: Where did that first bullet fired on the crowded street go? Could it have hit a bystander? Who was the amputee in the passenger seat? It is possible he did not know that his companion had intended to rob a store. Did he die never knowing the reason why? Could the car the mortally wounded robber drove off in have accidentally killed or maimed innocent bystanders? Did the store owner, in order to recover his stolen property, have the right to endanger the lives of innocent bystanders? Did he have the right to play judge, jury and executioner?

Maryland law says that a citizen can use deadly force only when he feels his life is in danger. This case shows why. GENE POZNIAK Chevy Chase