As a Texas grand jury deliberates on whether to press charges against an armed civilian involved in the deadly shooting of a suspected robber inside a Texas taqueria, the incident has brought attention to individuals who have taken matters into their own hands.
ABC News informed law enforcement specialists that there has been a surge in occurrences of American individuals intervening in what they interpret as criminal activity, which seems to be driven by a blend of an increase in firearms, states with “stand your ground” laws, holders of concealed carry permits, and a rising lack of trust in law enforcement’s ability to safeguard communities.
A 13-year-old unarmed boy, who was suspected of breaking into vehicles, was killed by a homeowner in Washington, D.C. This incident also prompted the arrest of community activists who called for justice. Additionally, a woman from Missouri was charged with murder for allegedly killing a man who confronted her while she was riding in a stolen car. In New Mexico, a man was fatally shot by an alleged car burglar, and the past month has seen several episodes of shooting and robbery, including the shooting of two innocent bystanders in a taqueria.
T. Markus Funk, a former federal prosecutor from Illinois and an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado Boulder Law School, expressed to ABC News, “I believe that this does indeed have a significant role to play,” in terms of how crime is resolved and prevented, emphasizing that law enforcement cannot rely on that perception.
Insufficient reliable information
Analysts have stated that the absence of reliable information presents a challenge in assessing whether there has been a rise in civilians intervening in criminal activities. Data relating to such occurrences is limited, as there is no centralized federal or local law enforcement authority responsible for monitoring and documenting them.
According to FBI data, the number of homicides by civilians classified as justified has been increasing annually, with guns being used in the majority of these incidents. However, the annual crime statistics provided by the FBI do not provide specific details about the circumstances surrounding each individual incident. The number of such homicides has risen from 286 in 2014 to 386 in 2019.
Keith Taylor, a retired officer of the New York Police Department and an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, informed ABC News that it is challenging to ascertain whether the rise in illegal activities, particularly concerning access to weapons, signifies a genuine deterioration or if it merely reflects an increase in reporting.
Funk and Taylor said anecdotally that it appears civilians are taking matters into their own hands more than relying on the police to solve crimes.
Prosecutors have stated that vigilante groups in New Jersey have conducted several recent sting operations, posing as minors in internet chat rooms, in order to catch alleged child predators. These groups have recorded YouTube videos of themselves confronting the predators before the prearranged rendezvous, as officials and police have mentioned.
The Prosecutor’s Office of Bergen County, New Jersey, issued a statement in December discouraging such vigilantism.
The declaration states, “It additionally endangers the fair treatment rights of potential subjects, places private individuals in harm’s way, and risks entangling law enforcement in unlawful actions.” Bergen County law enforcement vehemently discourages this behavior, as it carries the possibility of violence and harm to both those directly involved and innocent onlookers.
Gun possession soars
Law enforcement experts said that the increase in armed civilians further contributes to the risks associated with such confrontations.
Taylor stated, “The Second Amendment is being used to promote the narrative that the ownership of guns by individuals is a necessity, while also fueling the perception that nationwide crime is rampant. Politicians and gun rights groups are exploiting this narrative to gain votes and cater to their constituents.”
Research indicates that in 2022, the population of individuals holding concealed firearm licenses increased by approximately 488,000, representing a growth of 2.3% compared to the previous year. As per investigations conducted by the Crime Prevention Research Center, the total count of concealed handgun permits granted across the country has surged to over 22 million, reflecting a significant rise of 48% since 2016, coinciding with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, the number of states adopting some type of stand your ground self-defense laws has increased in 24 from 2012. Furthermore, the number of states permitting the concealed carry of handguns has also seen a significant jump in 2023.
Taylor expressed, “In such cases, the notion of assuming personal responsibility becomes more acceptable if people perceive their community’s government and local public safety organizations as incapable of adequately safeguarding them.” “When someone takes matters into their own hands as a vigilante, the police might mistakenly identify them as the assailant and fatally harm them, which may not be comprehended by the general populace.”
As per authorities, a law enforcement officer who was attending to the situation fatally shot the compassionate helper when he witnessed him holding the murderer’s AR-15 rifle. The Arvada Police Department stated that in June 2021, a 40-year-old individual fatally shot an armed perpetrator who had killed a police officer in downtown Arvada, Colorado.
Series of recent occurrences
Recent incidents that have ended in either a good Samaritan being killed or ending up charged after intervening in perceived crimes, include:.
According to the statement released by the attorney representing the diner, the diner was justified in using deadly force and feared for his life, as per Texas law. The police and prosecutors referred the case to a grand jury in Harris County to determine whether charges should be brought against the diner. Before leaving the scene, the armed diner returned the stolen money to the victims and was later interviewed. The individual accused of the crime, who was later discovered to be carrying a fake gun, was shot nine times and killed by a 46-year-old customer at The Ranchito #4 taqueria in southwest Houston on Jan. 5, as captured on surveillance footage.
According to the police, the individual responsible for felony voluntary manslaughter was apprehended and accused. The altercation between the two individuals turned violent, resulting in the victim’s tragic death due to being shot. On January 6th, in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a 30-year-old male was fatally wounded after confronting a 19-year-old male whom he suspected of having committed vehicle burglaries earlier that morning at a nearby Walmart Superstore, as stated by law enforcement officials.
The homeowner, whose identity has not been disclosed, lethally shot a 13-year-old boy without any weapons, whom he believed to be involved in car thefts in his vicinity at 4 a.M. On Jan. 7. Community advocates urged prosecutors to press charges of manslaughter against the homeowner.
According to authorities, the woman was apprehended and accused of two instances of premeditated killing and one instance of serious attack. As per the police, another individual who was not involved in the incident was wounded by gunfire but managed to survive. The woman lethally shot a 19-year-old male whom she discovered inside the automobile, as well as a 49-year-old male who was situated outside the vehicle and was identified by law enforcement as an innocent observer. On December 22nd, a 35-year-old woman armed with a weapon traced her stolen vehicle to a gas station in the suburban area of St. Louis.