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Defensive shootings fuel gun debate

By MIKE HOYEM

Roy Bedard is a karate champion and reserve police officer who calls himself a "use of force expert."

Bedard, who runs a security consulting company in Tallahassee called RRB Systems International, said most business owners "tend to carry weapons responsibly."

But he believes more should be done to educate gun owners on when — not just how — to use their weapons.

"Deadly force isn't something you plan for," Bedard said.

"Suddenly you're there and the question is, 'Do I shoot or don't I shoot?' There is no greater decision a person will make than to take another person's life."

A pair of recent incidents in Lee County involving guns have raised that issue.

• On May 29, off-duty security guard Donald Biggs pulled his pistol and began firing shots in the parking lot of a Fort Myers Publix store to try to stop a fleeing shoplifting suspect. No one was hurt by the gunfire.

• On June 3, a clerk at Weaver's Corner Pharmacy in North Fort Myers pulled a pistol and shot an armed, masked man who was trying to rob the pharmacy of prescription drugs.

Convicted felon James Dan Maroney, 36, was arrested Thursday and has been charged with attempted armed robbery.

Don Coate, who owns Coate-of-Arms firearms store in North Fort Myers, believes the pharmacy worker should be congratulated.

"God bless him," Coate said. "Amen. More power to him. He was a store owner who was defending his property and himself. I'm happy for that guy."

But Coate said he's not so sure about the actions of Biggs, who tried to shoot out the tires of a truck being driven erratically by suspected shoplifter Matthew Depalma.

Bobby Blanchard of Fort Myers witnessed the incident.

"I don't think he needed to be shooting that gun off in that parking lot," said Blanchard, who had just come out of the store when Biggs began shoot.

"To me, that's considered a petty theft," Blanchard said. "A petty theft does not require when somebody is getting away to shoot at their tires. It was just scary, the whole thing."

Biggs said he fired his 9 mm handgun at the suspect's tires after the man hit a parked car, ran over a store employee's foot and was turning in circles with another employee hanging out of the vehicle.

The state attorney's office is reviewing both incidents to see if any crimes were committed by the shooters, who each had concealed weapons permits.

GUN CRIMES DOWN

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, violent crimes involving guns have been on the decline in the state for years — dropping from 44,885 in 1992 to 26,346 in 2002, the latest year for which statistics are available.

But many business owners still keep weapons at the ready.

At the D & D convenience store off Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Dunbar, store manager Tom Goodrich sometimes has a pistol on hand. But owner Imad Awad, 40, believes he does more to ward off crime by having a top-notch security system and extra people minding the store.

"The counter is only two steps from the door," Awad said. "If a person's going to come and rob the store, they're going to walk in with a gun in their hand. Whether I have a gun or 20 guns in here you can't do anything with it."

Corporations such as 7-Eleven and Pizza Hut forbid their clerks and delivery drivers to carry weapons.

According to 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris, the company has cut its holdup rate by 68 percent since 1976 simply by keeping most of the money in "time-delay" safes that dispense cash slowly.

"Robbers steal for cash," said a 7-Eleven study on the issue. "If stores reduce their cash availability and publicize it, they can deter robberies."

345,001 PERMITTED

According to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, there were 345,001 people with concealed weapons permits in Florida — which has a population of 17.5 million — as of May 31.

In Lee County, with 521,253 residents, there were 12,832 people as of May 31 with concealed weapons permits.

There's no telling how many people carry concealed weapons illegally or how many guns there are in the county, region or the state.

"I'm not sure how you could even find that out unless you went to each house," said Buddy Bevis, who is assistant director of the agriculture department's licensing division. "There is no gun registration in the state of Florida."

Gun enthusiasts support the right of people to defend themselves against the threat of death or great bodily harm. But they agree it's tough to say when it's appropriate to pull the trigger.

"It's very hard to give you a standpoint on whether or not it's justified unless you're involved," said Brian Waldron, a state-licensed firearms instructor and an employee of the Professional Security Institute in Fort Myers. "... You need to be 110 percent positive that your life or someone else's life is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm."

Sgt. Jack Bores is a firearms instructor at the Lee County Sheriff's Office. Neither Bores nor the sheriff's office would comment on the shootings, but Bores pointed out police get many hours of firearms training and are taught to make split-second decisions under stress — a skill most civilians never learn.

"You have to be able to articulate why you felt the need to use deadly force," Bores said. "Just because somebody is walking down the street with a gun doesn't mean you're going to have a deadly encounter. It is not a cut-and-dried situation. There's too many variables."

Shawn Dodson is owner/director of the Firearms Tactical Institute in Port Orchard, Wash., which, among other things, publishes an electronic magazine on the "tactical employment of firearms against deadly criminal threats."

On his Web site, Dodson has what he calls the "Five Rules of Concealed Carry."

Rule No. 3 is, "If you can run away safely, run."

"Before you deliberately expose your gun in public, ask yourself, 'Is this worth going to jail for?'" Dodson said. "The only time this question should warrant a 'yes' response is when an adversary has at least both the ability and intent and is actively seeking the opportunity to do you great harm."

John Pancari of Pine Island has been a gun enthusiast all his life and is president of the Southwest Florida Sportsman's Association.

Pancari said when to fire a weapon in self-defense is "a very complex issue."

"It's like that moment of truth that hopefully nobody is in that position to face," Pancari said. "You must be responsible. That's the key with a firearm. ... You don't fly off the handle. There's no taking that bullet back."

http://www.news-press.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050613/NEWS01/506130399/1075

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