Truck driver Darlene Jackson was shopping in the toy section of the Thornton Walmart where Scott Ostrem is alleged to have murdered three people on Thursday, Nov. 2. Police are trying to lay some of the blame for their dilatory response in providing suspect information to the public on the presence of armed citizens who drew weapons at the sound of gunfire but did not attempt to engage the suspect.
According to Thornton Police spokesperson Victor Avila, the killer "walked in very nonchalantly with his hands in the pockets, raised a weapon and began shooting. Then he turns around and walks out of the store."
Current evidence suggests the shooting was over within seconds and the killer was gone from the store moments later.
Interviewed later by The Denver Post, Jackson asked why wouldn't armed citizens "draw their guns and shoot him?" They probably didn't move to engage the suspect because that's not their job, their job is protecting themselves and their families, which is exactly what they did.
Carrying a concealed handgun doesn't come with an obligation to put yourself in danger by running toward a crime in progress. However, armed citizens have both the right and legal authority to do so if they choose, but cannot be criticized if they don't.
They may use force, potentially, including deadly force, to prevent a crime or apprehend someone who has committed a crime in their presence under Colorado law. The choice is entirely up to them and the exact circumstances at the time are the only thing that armed citizens need to take into consideration in deciding how to respond.
Events in Texas last Sunday, where an armed criminal attacked the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, killing 26 and wounding numerous others amply demonstrates the value of armed citizens who do choose to place themselves in danger to protect others.
The Daily Mail reports that Stephen Willeford and Johnnie Langendorff reacted without any concern for their safety in pursuing the killer after Willeford used his own rifle to shoot the killer, causing him to drop his rifle and flee the scene.
The pair pursued the killer at high speed in Langendorff's truck and held him at gunpoint until police arrived after the killer crashed his SUV.
Unfortunately it appears at this time that if any of the parishioners were themselves armed, which Texas law allows at the discretion of the church, they were unable to effectively engage the killer, who was wearing body armor.
Professional firearms instructors teach that attempting to intervene in a crime in progress using a firearm is an extremely dangerous and legally perilous thing to do. Most armed citizens carry firearms to protect their own, not to be heroes.
The first duty is to protect yourself and your loved ones from an attacker. If escape is possible, that's always the first choice. The next choice if one is not under immediate attack is to find cover or concealment. Cover is defined as something that bullets cannot penetrate. Concealment is just that, and includes things that may not turn a bullet.
But sometimes the situation calls for an immediate armed response to save lives and many times only a good guy with a gun who is present when the attack takes place has any chance of changing the outcome.
The reactions of armed citizens in both tragedies were correct given the circumstances. In the case of the Arvada killer, identifying the actual killer and not accidentally shooting someone else was the tactical priority and the armed citizens reacted correctly by being cautious. In the Texas case, the killer was easily identified and shooting him was reasonable and necessary and the tactics used by Willeford and Langendorff were exemplary and show the courage, altruism and love that Americans have for one another.
Both incidents prove that armed citizens are a benefit to the community and that contrary to the protestations of gun-haters, armed citizens are not trigger-happy yahoos looking for a reason to shoot someone. They are very careful to use their firearms appropriately.
Readers can contact Scott Weiser at firstname.lastname@example.org.