America is as always in the midst of a bitter debate over guns.
In the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Oregon, gun control advocates called for new restrictions on weapons as a way of preventing such tragedies. President Obama vowed to push for tighter gun control. Ian Mercer, the father of Oregon shooter Chris Harper Mercer, lent his support to the idea. “If Chris had not been able to get hold of 13 guns, this wouldn’t have happened,” he told CNN.
Gun rights advocates argued this approach was all wrong. The answer to mass shootings wasn’t less guns; it was more. More guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens who could stop active shooters before they start slaughtering innocents.
Now an interesting example has been tossed into the middle of this ideological tussle.
On Tuesday, customers were coming and going in the parking lot of a Home Depot near Detroit when a shoplifter suddenly came tearing across the blacktop. The shoplifter, who appeared to be in his 40s and wore a black shirt and hat, was pushing a cart full of stolen power tools and welding equipment worth more than $1,000.
As a Home Depot loss prevention officer came running after him, the shoplifter shoved the stolen goods into a waiting black SUV and jumped in.
That’s when a female bystander pulled out a concealed pistol and fired several shots at the fleeing shoplifters, possibly striking one of the SUV’s rear tires.
The shoplifters nonetheless escaped, according to a press release from the Auburn Hills Police Department.
The female shooter stayed at the scene and is cooperating fully with the investigation, according to police. Cops have not identified her but have said she is 46 years old, from the nearby city of Clarkston and holds a valid concealed pistol license.
On Wednesday, police put out a public call for tips on the shoplifter or his getaway driver.
By then, however, the talk of the town wasn’t the initial incident so much as the woman’s response.
A handful of local firearms instructors criticized the woman’s decision to pull her pistol and fire it in a busy public place when nothing but property was at stake.
“It’s my worst nightmare as a [concealed pistol license] instructor,” Doreen Hankins told the Detroit Free Press. “You have to know the entire situation before you pull that handgun out. And I don’t see that a shoplifter at Home Depot fills any of those criteria.”
Hankins and other firearms instructors told the newspaper that concealed weapon license holders should only pull their guns if someone is in imminent danger of death or serious injury, including a sexual assault. Those who draw their pieces too quickly and frivolously fire at people can face serious felony charges, from the reckless use of a firearm to assault.
All three instructors agreed the woman had overreacted.
“In that situation personally, there’s no way I would be shooting my gun,” Dawn Martin, another instructor, told the Free Press.
“None of it makes sense,” Hankins said. “Even if it were law enforcement, they wouldn’t do that.”
“You are not a police officer,” she added, referring to concealed gun license holders. “You are not a person out there protecting the public at large.”
Yet, that is how Americans increasingly see things.
Since the 2012 Newtown, Conn., massacre of 26 people, including 20 school children, the percentage of Americans who think gun ownership could “protect people from becoming victims of crime” has gone up by nine points, according to a 2014 Pew Research Poll.
The shift was most significant among Republicans, whose support for gun ownership between 2012 and 2014 rose from 63 percent to 80 percent. The poll also marked the first time in two decades of Pew surveys that more Americans supported gun rights rather than gun control, The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips reported in July.
Last week’s mass shooting in Roseburg, Ore., only seems to have reinforced this idea.
On Saturday, law professor and Post contributor Eugene Volokh published a list of incidents in which holders of concealed-carry permits arguably stopped mass shootings.
And on Sunday, Donald Trump took to the airwaves to echo NRA president Wayne LaPierre’s famous dictum that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
“I can make the case that if there were guns in that room other than [the shooter’s], fewer people would have died,” Trump said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Fewer people would have been so horribly injured.”
As with the massacre in Roseburg, the parking lot shooting in Auburn Hills, Mich., is already proving to be a Rorschach test for people’s preexisting views on gun rights.
Critics flooded the Auburn Hills Police Department’s Facebook page with disparaging comments about the woman who unloaded on the shoplifter.
“I am more worried about an armed vigilante than a non-armed petty theft criminal,” one Michigan man wrote.
“Life ain’t Grand Theft Auto,” another commenter wrote, referring to the popular video game criticized for allowing players to do just about anything they want on-screen. “You don’t freakin’ shoot at shoplifters!”
Many of the comments were directed at the cops who let the woman walk away after the incident.
“Why in hell is she not arrested for opening fire in a public place that could have mistakenly hit a bystander?” one person wrote. “Shoplifting is a misdemeanor, not a shoot-to-kill offense. They should’ve tackled the woman down for public endangerment.”
“This police department seems to be amazingly confused on which crime actually matters,” another added. “Hint: it ain’t the shoplifter.”
According to local media, authorities are still considering charging the woman. A spokesman for the Auburn Hills Police Department told The Post that police had met with prosecutors on Wednesday to discuss the issue, but had not yet announced a decision.
Even some Second Amendment enthusiasts conceded that the woman had made concealed-carry permit holders look bad, although they argued she was an exception that should be dealt with as such.
“Idiots like this one give the liberals that want to take our Second Amendment right away ammunition,” one man wrote on the police Facebook page. “She took the CPL class, she was taught under what circumstances she can justifiably draw her weapon. She deserves to be charged with discharging a weapon in public and possibly worse.”