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Kadner: Concealed-carry shooting incident raises questions

This AT T store Crestwood was scene robbery over weekend where man with concealed carry license fired robber being chased

This AT&T store in Crestwood was the scene of a robbery over the weekend where a man with a concealed carry license fired at a robber being chased by a police officer. The officer gave up the chase when he heard shots fired. The alleged robber was later caught. | Phill Kadner/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 1, 2014 7:58AM



A retired Chicago homicide detective thinks a man who fired at a robber fleeing a store robbery in Crestwood should be charged with unlawful discharge of a weapon.

Crestwood police and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office seem to think the fellow is something of a hero, so he’s not being accused of any crime.

And there you have the essence of the debate raging between pro-gun and anti-gun forces over an incident last weekend that’s gaining national attention on social media.

Demetrius Merrill, 17, of Chicago, is charged with the armed robbery of an AT&T store at Calumet Sag Road and Cicero Avenue on Saturday, as first reported in the SouthtownStar by Kate McCann.

A Crestwood police officer, who had been flagged down and told by a citizen there was a robbery in progress, chased a suspect, who fled from the rear of the store, and noticed that the teen was armed.

Suddenly, two shots rang out, and the officer, who didn’t know where they were coming from, took cover “for his own safety” and gave up the chase, according to police.

The robber ran through an open field into a heavily wooded area bordering the nearby Calumet Sag Channel. Other suburban police agencies were called in to form a perimeter around the area, and Crestwood and Palos Heights officers arrested Merrill as he attempted to leave the woods, police said.

In the meantime, Crestwood police interviewed the man who fired the shots, and he told them that he saw the robbery from outside the store and positioned himself near the entrance and stopped customers from going inside.

He said he saw the robber fleeing through the rear of the store toward Cicero Avenue, did not see the police officer in pursuit and fired what he intended to be “two warning shots,” according to a Crestwood police detective. The robber then changed direction and headed toward the woods near the canal.

Mike Pochordo, a Chicago homicide detective for 31 years, thinks the gun-toting civilian is “an idiot.”

“That individual has a complete disregard of the law and no understanding of the responsibility that comes with the use of deadly force,” said Pochordo, a resident of Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community. “That idiot is lucky the police officer didn’t turn around and shoot him. I mean, the officer was in hot pursuit of an armed robbery suspect and suddenly someone is firing at him.

“What do you think would have happened to that police officer if he had shot and killed that civilian? The media would have been all over him. And what if the civilian had shot an innocent bystander?

“Even if he shot and killed the suspect, that civilian has no idea of what it is to live with a thing like that. It’s an awful feeling.”

Pochordo, who fears that citizens carrying concealed weapons pose a threat to police officers, believes the civilian, who has a concealed-carry permit, should be charged with unlawful discharge of a weapon, to send a message to other citizens who “want to play hero.”

Crestwood Detective Chris Soderlund said police believe Merrill is part of a “dangerous gang” that has robbed other Southland cellphone stores. He is suspected in at least one other store robbery, and police believe he had an accomplice who left the scene before Merrill entered the store Saturday, Soderlund said.

Police have refused to identify the shooter for his protection. But Soderlund said the man is 54, not 86 as reported in another newspaper, and that he lives in the south suburbs.

The erroneous report that he was 86 led me to wonder if there was an age limit for concealed-carry permits in Illinois.

“There’s a minimum age of 21, but no maximum age,” said Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police.

Are there any physical tests required for concealed-carry permits, such as a vision exam?

“There must be,” Bond initially said. “There are eye exams for a driver’s license.”

But after a quick check, Bond said “eye exams are not required for concealed-carry permits.”

Mark Walsh, campaign coordinator for Citizens Against Handgun Violence, said the response from pro-gun advocates to such questions usually is, “They shoot targets during concealed-carry training classes, so that proves they can see.”

I called the Illinois Rifle Association, seeking a response, but my phone message was not returned.

If the civilian in this case had saved the life of a police officer or that of another person during the robbery, I have no doubt he would be hailed today as a hero — not only by the pro-gun lobby but by the general public.

But had he shot the police officer by mistake or wounded a bystander, the debate likely would be quite different.

Accidents happen. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

Even well-intentioned people make mistakes. Even trained police officers shoot innocent bystanders or use deadly force on criminals when none is needed.

So why would we expect ordinary folks, who go through a 16-hour training class, to show better judgment or restraint?

“Do you know most guns used in crimes are stolen from the homes of people who have gun permits?” Pochordo asked. “I can tell you that a lot of the weapons we confiscated from criminals in Chicago had been stolen from law-abiding citizens.

“I have nothing against people keeping a gun in their homes to protect themselves and their families,” he said. “I just don’t want them out on the streets trying to chase down bad guys. They’re going to shoot some innocent person or get themselves killed or get a police officer killed.”

I don’t see the repeal of concealed carry in Illinois any time soon. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that it’s the right of every American, under the Constitution, to keep and bear arms.

That’s why Illinois passed a concealed-carry law. It was basically ordered to do so by the Supreme Court.

But if people are going to carry guns on the streets, they ought to realize that the line between hero and criminal can be crossed in the time it takes to pull a trigger.



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