Tumwater case puts spotlight on intervention by armed citizens

VIDEO: Man who also stepped in to help during Tumwater shooting

TUMWATER, Wash. — When a carjacking suspect began shooting at the Tumwater Walmart Sunday, Jesse Zamora was not the only shopper to reach for his gun.

He met another armed citizen in the parking lot.

"I don't even know the guy, he said 'are you armed?' I said yes and he goes, 'I'm armed too.'"

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Zamora says that man told suspect Tim Day to drop his weapon, then shot him dead.

"My hats go off to the gentleman who did that," Zamora said. "However, I think we had a mutual understanding to do what we need to to protect all these people here."

The story of an armed citizen killing a violent crime suspect took off on social media.

"I think the guy's going to be deemed a hero," said Alan Gottlieb of the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation.

"This is a case where a good guy with a gun stopped a bad guy and we can see there's a good side of guns and guns save lives," Gottlieb said.

Jacqueline Helfgott chairs the Criminal Justice Department at Seattle University.

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Helfgott said she didn't want to criticize the citizen who shot the carjacking suspect, but says she's concerned about the takeaway from this case.

"The idea that citizens packing guns are going to come to the rescue of innocent individuals in the face of dangerous predators, that's a dangerous message," Helfgott said.

Helfgott said while citizens should have a role in crime prevention, and are often on-scene before police, they usually don't have a police officer's de-escalation training or knowledge of the law.

"Yes, I'm very worried about the downside of the good guy with the gun because the bottom line is we need to get more guns off the street rather than get more guns onto the street," Helfgott said.

"The presence of guns create accidental victims, they create victims that die when they don't need to die."

A citizen who intervenes and shoots a criminal not only puts themselves at physical risk, but could face legal trouble.

"We see all the time where criminals in commission of a crime then sue the person who shot them even though they were the criminal," Gottlieb said.

That's why he says many gun owners buy insurance to cover legal bills, something that can be particularly useful if the well-meaning citizen accidentally shoots someone else.