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Guns... or Not?

Shopper Cuts Hold-up Short


By Jamie Malernee
St. Petersburg Times
Wednesday, May 24, 2000

SPRING HILL -- Sandra Suter was standing in the check-out line at Wal-Mart on Monday when she saw several store employees wrestling with a man.

"Drop the knife! Drop the knife!" one of the employees yelled at the man, who authorities say was trying to steal a VCR. The man, identified as Willie J. Redding, dropped the appliance, pulled a small blade and lunged, cutting two employees, a Hernando County sheriff's report said.

Suter, a 53-year-old grandmother of two, reacted. Within seconds, she rushed to the scuffle.

"I have a concealed weapons permit," she announced as she whipped out the .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun she keeps in her purse.

"Either drop the knife, or I'll shoot you," she said as she held the weapon to the man's face.

After a few tense moments, during which Suter repeated her threat, Redding dropped the knife and surrendered to store security. Redding of 262 A St., Brooksville, now faces a charge of armed robbery and two counts of battery.

Authorities say the 50-year-old Brooksville man walked into the Spring Hill store with an empty VCR box, said he wanted to make an exchange and then tried to leave with a new VCR. Redding, who has previous convictions for selling drugs and dealing in stolen property, was taken to the Hernando County Jail. He was released Tuesday on $3,000 bond.

After the arrest, several employees, who did not need treatment for minor cuts, and a Hernando County sheriff's deputy thanked Suter for her decisive action.

Suter's husband and grown children are calling her a hero. But the 5-foot-3 homemaker just laughs at the label.

"I just did what I thought was right," she said. "It was the first time I've ever had to pull my gun other than at the firing range. I don't know what made me do it."

Suter said she has carried the gun in a special pouch in her purse since March. Her son urged her to get it, saying she needed protection during long drives to visit out-of-state relatives. Suter picked the chrome handgun because it was "pretty."

She would have used it Monday if necessary. "I would have, had I had a clear shot," she said.

Suter is not a member of the National Rifle Association and said she does not get involved in "any of that politics." But she strongly supports Americans' right to bear arms. She and her family often gather at a Lakeland shooting range to practice.

"It's brought our family closer together," she said. She and her husband keep child safety locks on their guns and have instructed their grandchildren, ages 4 and 2, not to touch them, she said.

Although authorities said they were relieved no one was hurt, spokesmen for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office and Wal-Mart advise civilians not to get involved in such situations. "We want to keep our stores a pleasant place to shop, so we would never encourage our customers to arm themselves," said Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Williams.

"In terms of how she handled herself, she acted responsibly," said sheriff's spokeswoman Deanna Dammer. "But next time the situation might not end so well."

Shopper Lorinda Smith, who was in the candy aisle during the confrontation, said Tuesday that she was more frightened by Suter's gun then the man's knife.

"That scared the c--- out of me, that someone could have a gun in the store," said Smith of Hernando Beach. "This one lady was in there with her children and when she saw (the gun) she was like, "Get on the ground! Get on the ground!' If I was there with my kids, I would have had a heart attack."

NRA officials did not return phone calls. Kim Mariani, spokeswoman for Handgun Control Inc., said Suter's actions, while brave, could have hurt someone.

"God forbid something went wrong," Mariani said. "It just escalates the situation, and a lot of times it's unnecessary."

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