A 19-year-old walks into a Waffle House at 1 a.m., draws a gun and commands patrons to the floor while his 29-year-old accomplice stands by menacingly.
A 23-year-old diner sitting at the counter refuses to comply. He draws a legally concealed pistol and shoots the teen, killing him almost instantly while the accomplice flees.
If you are the deceased 19-year-old armed robber’s cousin, your natural reaction would be to:
A: Express a mix of shock, horror and shame that your cousin’s senseless actions not only led to his untimely death but jeopardized the lives of innocent people.
B: Express outrage that laws enabled the would-be victim to carry a concealed weapon and justifiably use it to defend himself and other patrons?
If you chose A, you probably are a rational person with a modicum of personal responsibility and respect for one’s God-given right to self-defense.
If you chose B, you have some things in common with Tamkia McSwain.
This South Carolinian and her family have generated national attention recently for speaking out against the man who shot her cousin, Dante Williams, at a Waffle House in Chesnee in January 2012.
The family does not deny Williams was committing a crime, but they say he didn’t have to die.
They are upset that the patron who shot him, Justin Harrison, wasn’t criminally charged because they say Williams was not a threat at the time Harrison pulled the trigger. They point to newly released restaurant security footage that showed Williams had the gun by his side when Harrison started firing his .45-caliber pistol.
“I understand you would feel threatened because of the situation, but you said that the gun was pointed at you, so you fired,” McSwain told Greenville’s WHNS-TV. “In fact, (Williams) was walking out.”
McSwain said the state needs to give more training before issuing concealed-weapons permits. However, Harrison’s instructor, former Spartanburg County Deputy David Blanton, told reporters the 23-year-old followed his training and was totally justified in the shooting.
“Not only was he defending his own life, which the law says he can do, but there were other people in the restaurant,” Blanton said.
Harrison said he didn’t know whether the men had murder on their minds or just robbery, but he wasn’t going to find out.
“They’re yelling, ‘Everybody get down, get down,’ and I’m just thinking, I’m not getting on the floor,” Harrison said. “I’m not going to be a victim.”
McSwain said her family is baffled as to why Williams would commit a robbery – on his birthday, no less.
“It still puzzles us as to why he would do something so crazy,” she said. “He was always sharp, always goofy, loved to dance. He was a respectable boy.”
Jawan Craig, the accomplice who fled after the shooting, is currently serving a 30-year prison term.
This case is tragic, but the tragedy lies not in the laws of South Carolina, which ensconce one’s natural right to self-defense, nor in the actions of Justin Harrison, who exercised his natural right.
The tragedy is found somewhere in the motivations of a young man who chose to walk into a late-night eatery on the morning of his 19th birthday and terrorize innocent people at gunpoint.
For those selfish and criminal acts, he paid a tragic price.