Police Say Man Who Pulled Gun on Black Friday Line-Cutter Was Within His Rights

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In one of several violent "Black Friday" incidents last week, a shopper in San Antonio reportedly pulled a gun on somebody trying to cut in line at Sears. Actually, he pulled the gun in response to being punched by the line-cutter after an argument, but the end result was the same: gun out, argument over, other people scattering in all directions. Yes, for some of us, that's basically just Thanksgiving dinner all over again, but I guess this was considered unusual because it happened in public.

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Exactly what happened is not entirely clear, but according to the San Antonio Express-News the incident took place while people were still crowding into the store about an hour after it opened. Some witnesses blamed the line-cutter, and the gunman (a word that usually means "criminal," but here it just means "man with a gun") apparently drew only after being punched. But other witnesses said the gunman had "behaved rudely that morning and had provoked the situation." Witnesses also disagreed as to whether he had pointed the gun directly at the miscreant, or only at the ground, the latter being the internationally recognized gesture translating roughly to: "Sir, I find your behavior reprehensible and any further escalation of it may well result in its being terminated, bullet-style." (I guess both those gestures translate roughly the same way.) In any event, over ten minutes of valuable shopping time was lost as consumers tried not to be killed so they would not lose out on great bargains.

Police have said that they believe the gunman did not break the law by displaying his firearm, which he had a permit to carry. (They confirmed that the gun was loaded and had a round in the chamber.) "We don't see this very often," said Officer Matthew Porter, implying that they do see it every now and then, but he went on to say that he believed the gunman had been "within his rights" to act as he did.

I think that's true, at least since he didn't actually fire the gun. Threatening someone with a gun is "assault with a deadly weapon," but he claimed he was acting in self-defense, and that is a legal defense if (among other things) the action was in proportion to the threat. That is, if you reasonably fear for your life, and (in most states) can't escape the situation, that may be considered a justification for using deadly force. A bullet is not likely to be considered proportional to a punch, but here the only action was to display the gun. Whatever risks that may have posed, it did succeed in deterring further punching. Had anybody been injured in the ensuing semi-riot (one person did get "stepped on," but wasn't injured), they might have had a civil claim, if they could convince a jury the guy acted unreasonably. Especially since this happened in Texas, though, that seems pretty unlikely.

According to the report, one witness said that "[w]hile everyone was panicking, the man with the gun stood there … and looked around, lowering the weapon." That makes it sound like he was a little puzzled at everyone's reaction. Or maybe he was just having trouble believing he was now actually first in line for that $99 cordless drill or whatever everybody thought was so goddamn important.