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Guns... or Not?

Citizen Shootings of Criminals
Mainly Draw Support

By Ohn Hopkins
© 2001, The Virginian-Pilot

PORTSMOUTH -- An armed 15-year-old boy, who broke into a Portsmouth home in June, is shot in the chest by the homeowner and chased off.

In Norfolk, a 60-year-old man who has been mugged twice, comes home last summer and fatally shoots an intruder in his bathroom.

Throughout the country, hundreds of law-abiding citizens are taking up arms, refusing to be victims. The number of Virginia residents with permits to carry concealed weapons is approaching 100,000. But is an armed community necessarily a safe one?

``Yes,'' said Maria Heil, a spokeswoman for Second Amendment Sisters Inc., a grass-roots, pro-gun group based in Texas. ``For the most part, people are getting absolutely fed up, especially in high-crime areas. They know police won't come, and if they do come, it's after the fact. People know now that they have to do something to protect themselves.''

Those fears, anxieties and frustrations are largely why there has been so much public support in South Hampton Roads for a 41-year-old Portsmouth man who fatally shot a teen-ager who was robbing an Alcoholic Beverage Control Store on Dec. 22. The man, who legally was carrying a concealed weapon, was one of six customers in the store and was ordered to the floor by the armed teen.

The customer lived to see another day.

But the family of 18-year-old Neshion Claiborne of Suffolk called his death ``cold-blooded murder.'' They said he was shot as many as eight times in the back and front of his body. Many of the bullets were fired through the front door of the store as the teen was fleeing. Claiborne returned one shot from his gun that came within 18 inches of the armed customer.

This week, Commonwealth's Attorney Martin Bullock ruled the shooting ``justifiable homicide.''

Of the nearly 2,000 people who responded to a PilotOnline.com survey, 92.7 percent said they supported the actions of the armed customer. Only 5 percent thought his actions were excessive.

Others, not involved in the survey, agreed with the armed customer's actions. Aaron Glassman, a 21-year-old Norfolk resident, is one.

``As harsh as it may sound, in a situation like that, it's kill or be killed,'' said Glassman, who legally carries a concealed weapon. ``That's what it boils down to. I'm a law-abiding citizen. He's a criminal. I reserve the right to win.''

Glassman has carried a concealed weapon for only a couple of months, since turning 21, the legal age to apply for a concealed-weapon permit in Virginia. Although he has not been a victim of a robbery, burglary or attack, he believes he needs it.

``I've been to public school,'' he said. ``Need I say more?''

Police are a reactive form of crime fighting, he said, and show up 99.9 percent of the time after the crime has been committed. Besides, citizens with a robber's gun in their face are in no position to call 911, he said.

``I refuse to be a victim,'' Glassman said. ``I refuse to be a statistic. I think society has basically looked at the criminals and looked at the justice system and figured out that the criminal has more rights than the victim.''

Second Amendment Sisters formed in direct response to last year's Million Mom March, in which women from across the country demonstrated their dedication to the prevention of gun deaths. In fact, the pro-gun group conducted a counter march in Washington at the same time -- on Mother's Day.

``There's no danger with an armed community,'' Heil said. ``An armed community is a safer community. If the citizenry is armed, the criminal is less likely to pick that community as a target of activity.''

While the Hampton Roads chapter of the Million Mom March has taken no official position on the recent shooting in Portsmouth, officials believe that Virginia's lax gun control laws can cause more harm than good.

Considering people's emotional ups and downs in daily life, it's ``very scary'' to know that many of them are legal gun toters, said Lisa Highsill, the march's coordinator for Virginia and a member of the Hampton Roads chapter.

``I don't think anything can be won with an armed society,'' Highsill said. ``We can't be the Wild West.''

Reach John Hopkins at 446-2793 or jhopkins@pilotonline.com

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