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Tevlin: Understandable impulse to help victim led to mugger's death

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN
  • Star Tribune
  • November 1, 2011 - 11:21 PM

There is still a lot we don't know about the shooting near the Cub store in south Minneapolis, in which a passerby with a permit to carry a gun killed a mugger who had just pistol-whipped a woman. But we now know that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman does not plan to press charges against the man, whose identity has not been released.

For that, I'm glad.

Freeman didn't release a lot of information about the incident because, technically, it is still being investigated. What he did say is that the man with the gun approached Darren Evanovich, who was rifling through the purse he had just stolen. He asked Evanovich to hand over the purse, but instead Evanovich pulled out his gun and pointed it at him.

The man shot him dead.

In conversations and on blogs and websites, there has been a lot of discussion about whether the guy should have chased after Evanovich. Some have suggested that in doing so, he became a vigilante, seeking to take the law into his own hands. Others countered that everyone has a right to make a citizen's arrest, and thus pursuit of the criminal was allowed. It would be silly to suggest that someone without a gun could pursue a criminal, but someone with one can't.

We don't know how much of the mugging the passerby saw, or whether he knew Evanovich had a gun. We don't know if the man was waving the gun around like Charles Bronson or had it discretely tucked away.

One thing is clear, if Evanovich drew a gun, the man had an absolute right to shoot and to protect himself.

I took firearms classes at the old Minneapolis armory when I was a kid. I've shot guns at ranges a couple of times but didn't find much enjoyment in it. When Minnesota first allowed people to carry guns, I was a little concerned the law would be abused and there would be a lot of situations like the one in south Minneapolis. I was wrong.

I am occasionally prisoner to an Irish temper, so I'm afraid that if I carried a gun everyone would look suspiciously like a target, so I don't. But I know people who do own them and carry them. Good people, with good intentions and, I hope, good aim.

One is Ron Rosenbaum, an attorney, radio show host and gun permit holder.

"The thing is, in gun classes, this is exactly what they tell you not to do," said Rosenbaum. "Yet, it is perfectly legal."

Besides, Rosenbaum says, "No county attorney wants to charge a guy in this situation and no jury wants to convict them."

Another acquaintance who carries is Mark Koscielski, who owns a gun shop near Chicago and Lake Street, and came up with the "Murderapolis" T-shirts during our record year of homicides.

"If it was me, and I saw a woman get knocked to the ground, I'd probably focus on making sure she was OK and calling the police," said Koscielski. "But everybody is different. He had a right to follow the guy and to use his weapon if he was in danger."

Most gun ownership manuals say similar things. Wisconsin's manual says this: "if your assailant runs away and no longer poses a threat, you must stop shooting. Chasing after your assailant is not recommended."

I get it. But I have to admit, I understand the impulse of the man who came to her rescue. I can think of at least three times in my life in which I have intervened in a crime or violent situation.

Once, I held a man for police with a tree saw when I caught him robbing my neighbor's house. I also stepped between a woman and the man who was chasing her down the street in South America. He pulled a butcher knife on me. I raised my umbrella and he decided there were easier marks down the block. I was young and stupid.

The last time was when I saw my neighbor getting punched by her boyfriend in the driveway a few years ago. I grabbed a baseball bat from behind my front door, and moved toward him. My stomach tightened when he didn't seem the least bit frightened. He calmly got into his car and drove away.

A few minutes later, a Minneapolis police officer who also happened to be a friend knocked on my door.

"Thanks for stepping in," he said. "But don't do it again. He's a gang-banger and he's armed."

They parked a squad car in front of the house for a few hours -- for her protection and mine -- in case the boyfriend came back.

Message received.

I don't know what I will do the next time I witness a crime. But I'm really glad that I always carry a cellphone.

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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