The tense and chaotic episode that unfolded at a Terre Haute mall last month was rich in lessons about what Indiana law allows — or prohibits — a person to do in defense of their property.
Here’s how police investigators say the April 5 incident unfolded: Two young men stole items from a small store inside the Meadows mall. With the looting in tow, they fled through the building’s main doors and exited toward the facility’s main driveway and parking lot. They were followed outside by the store owner, who was not too happy with the thieves and their brazen criminal effort. What happened next stunned nearby onlookers, many of whom mid-afternoon around the busy shopping outlet.
The store owner began firing a handgun at the robbers as they escaped. Several shots rang out as the thieves fled around a corner of the building. No one was hit by the bullets, but they were fired in the direction of a busy parking lot and a city street. People nearby shouted at the man to stop shooting, which he did. A nearby middle school was closed as students were about to be released for the day.
Luckily no one was hurt and the police arrived quickly. The thieves fled, though they dropped some of their loot as they rushed to dodge the gunfire aimed at them. They have yet to be identified and arrested.
The 72-year-old store owner, however, faces a criminal recklessness charge based on allegations he discharged his firearm in a reckless manner that endangered pedestrians and motorists.
It may seem surprising that the victim of a crime is now the one facing charges. But as the prevalence of firearms in our society increases and people can carry lethal weapons with almost no restrictions, it is crucial that people know what is and what is not appropriate gun use. to fire in cases such as the one encountered by the store owner.
Legal experts explain that deadly force – including the use of a firearm – can only be used to defend against serious bodily injury or potential loss of life, not simply to protect property.
An assistant chief Vigo County prosecutor clarified that the use of deadly force to protect property, such as money or jewelry, can only occur if there is a reasonable belief that such force exists. is necessary to prevent the imminent or immediate threat of serious bodily injury. oneself or another person, or to prevent the commission of a crime involving the use or threat of force.
The Old West mentality that guns can be used not only to defend against bodily harm, but also to defend property or simply intimidate someone you have a disagreement with is a threat to a safe and secure life. peaceful. Moreover, it is illegal.
It remains to be seen what will become of the store owner who has gone too far in his pursuit of the thieves. Whatever the outcome, the case is a cautionary tale for gun owners who might be tempted to become armed bandits.