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June 29, 2009

In a Split Second

I am constantly amazed at the number of people who blithely assume that their possession of a handgun—no matter what their level of training—would enable them to prevent or stop a gun-related crime without doing collateral damage. Such an assumption is often in direct contrast to the experience of well-trained, armed law enforcement officials.

On June 10, Bill Crummett, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), witnessed an armed crime unfolding as his car was stopped at a traffic light near the Capitol in Washington, D.C. As reported by Clarence Williams in the Washington Post, “Two pedestrians in a crosswalk pulled out semiautomatic handguns and opened fire on a third man, who was wounded and scrambled for cover behind a sports utility vehicle. The assailants then hid their weapons in their waistbands, leaving Crummett to make a split-second decision: Engage and risk a firefight or call for help.”

As Williams tells the story, “Crummett decided not to risk the chance of escalating a gun battle at an intersection crowded with commuters and pedestrians. Instead, he called D.C. police, gave them a description of the suspects and began a low-key pursuit until help arrived.” As a result of his actions, the guns used in the crime were recovered and one suspect was arrested later that day. No innocent bystanders were harmed at any time.

According to Agent Crummett: “There’s a couple of things that I could do at that moment. It was more dangerous for me to try take enforcement action…the smartest thing to do was to follow them.” Inspector Michael Reese with the D.C. Police agreed: “He could have opted to shoot, but he didn’t. I think he used good sound judgment. He let his expertise come into play.

I have heard far too many un-trained, would-be heroes confidently assert that they would pull their trusty piece and save the day in such a situation. Walter Mitty would be proud. In reality, reaching for your trusted piece will most likely result in increased tragedy. Owning a gun is a grave responsibility. Knowing when not to use one is imperative.

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