Forget About The Law. What Are The Ethics?


Forget About The Law. What Are The Ethics?


Leonard Zwelling

On Thursday January 5 at about 11 PM at a small taco restaurant on South Gessner, a man dressed in a black hoodie and wielding a gun entered. He pointed the weapon at the few patrons there at that hour and demanded their money. He walked among them as they tossed the cash on the floor and the gunman stooped to pick it up. He then retreated to the entrance with his back turned to those he had just robbed.

One of the patrons was armed. He reached for his weapon and killed the robber by shooting him in the back. The man was dead at the scene, but by the time the police got there, only the owners remained. According to news reports, the citizen shooter has an attorney and has contacted the Houston Police for a sit down. The above report from KPRC’s web site indicates no crime was committed by the citizen shooter.

There’s one more point. The would-be robber was using a toy gun. No one in the restaurant was ever in any danger of being shot by the perpetrator. But they couldn’t have known that. All of this was caught on closed circuit TV.

In a concealed carry state like Texas, it is highly unlikely that the citizen shooter will be charged with a crime although the district attorney may well take the case to a grand jury.

What were the options of the patrons in the restaurant?

Those who were unarmed had few options. As far as they could see they either handed over their cash or risked being shot by the robber.

What about our citizen shooter?

He could have joined the rest of the patrons and watch his money leave out the door and left the robber untouched.

He could have aimed his weapon at the robber’s back as he was leaving and told him to drop his weapon or risk being shot himself.

He could have shot the robber in the legs, but then risked the robber having some time and turning and shooting at him. Remember, the citizen shooter did not know the robber had a toy gun.

Finally, he could have done what he did. Kill the guy. He probably should have stuck around until the police got there, but instead he took his money and distributed the loot back to everyone else who was a victim. The case is still up in the air as to whether or not formal charges will be filed by the DA. It does indeed resemble an episode of Law and Order—the one with Adam Arkin playing the Greek jewelry store owner shot two robbers in the back.

This is a tough one for me.

It may well be that the citizen shooter was well within his rights to kill the robber, but you have to wonder if there was a better way. The problem is that reality edges in when you are in the heat of the moment and you realize that it really came down to getting back the loot or killing the perp. The robber’s gun being a toy was known only by the robber.

This will be a fascinating incident to follow in the coming days. What will the DA do and what are the sentiments of the average Houstonian? I think I know the latter. Whether it was a toy gun or not, the patrons felt threatened by someone who seemed to be willing to use deadly force in the commitment of a felony. The shooting was justified by the law.

We are getting close to vigilante justice here, but my guess is that the citizen shooter will not be charged.

What do you think? Let me know.

18 thoughts on “Forget About The Law. What Are The Ethics?”

  1. The robber was in the process of leaving, and there was no imminent threat to the lives of the patrons at the time. There were many actions the shooter could have taken short of killing the robber. But people have no tolerance for street crime; there’s now one less bad guy on the streets. He should be charged, but he won’t be, and no one is going to lose any sleep over that result.

  2. What an interesting “case”!
    I discussed with my wife, a psychiatrist, and gave her my thoughts.
    I was a member of the US Air Force Academy Pistol team as an undergraduate. We were National Champs four years in a row with five All-Americans, so I know how to shoot a “tight” pattern. However, I would NOT have shoot this thief in the back unless he had already shot someone in the restaurant. The problem with shooting him is that he could have still returned fire, which may have injuried or killed innocents. But, I hope that the law excuses his action.
    My wife says that this hombre has probably done and will do other BAD things, perhaps next time with a real gun. And, we must understand the psychological trauma to all the restaurant clients. He is BAD! She would also hopes for clemency, too

  3. The citizen shooter, took care of a person that would’ve repeated this crime over and over and got him off the street.. I gave him credit for that. He did the city of Houston favor. Don’t prosecute him

  4. My opinion: Forget the law and ethics; what the citizen shooter did was stupid and reckless. He risked escalation of the situation and the lives of the other patrons for what? the thrill of shooting someone? It’s hard to argue that this citizen shooter fired out of fear when the robber was walking away. There should be some consequence lest this guy feel free to do this again – perhaps even by instigating the next confrontation. But, then again, this is Texas, and many other parts of the USA. This is what happens when any moron is allowed to walk around armed with a lethal weapon.

    1. Leonard Zwelling

      That’s the opposite point of view from those below. I think this is a tough one and I really can’t say what I would have done. Though I am licensed to carry a concealed weapon, I do not own one. Thus, I would never be in the situation of the citizen shooter. I do however feel pretty certain that I could not shoot someone in the back–unless….isn’t that the issue. How much did you feel violated by the actions of the perp and how angry did you get? Mad enough to shoot him? Obviously, in this case, yes.

  5. This taqueria robber had an extensive criminal history, including homicide. According to a Daily Mail report, “He was convicted in 2015 in connection to the murder of 52-year-old Hamid Waraich, the owner of a Boost Mobile cell phone store, who was fatally shot in the back during a robbery. He was paroled in 2021 after serving six years. One of the victim’s sons, Sean Waraich, called Washington ‘an evil criminal that took joy from harassing and robbing innocent families.’” At the time of the taqueria robbery he was out on bond for domestic violence after attacking his girlfriend. Shot in the back? What goes around, comes around..

  6. It depends on the mindset of the taqueria diner. Armed robbery murders are common in most major US cities including Houston. It’s why convenience store clerks like to work behind bulletproof glass windows. Moral, ethical, and legal issues concerning retaliation by an armed robbery victim are of secondary consequence when the victim believes his/her life is in immediate danger. If that’s what the taqueria diner thought, his action was fully justified under Texas state law. From a moral and ethical perspective, it should come down to the same criterion.

    1. Leonard Zwelling

      OK. But can your life be in danger when someone is fleeing and you shoot them in the back. That’s the tough one. I doubt the shooter will be prosecuted anyway as the shooting was legal in Texas.

      1. You don’t know that the robber was fleeing just because he was walking to the front of the store. That’s an assumption, not an established fact. He might have been intent on further robbing or committing serious bodily harm to one or more of the staff … who are usually found, together the check-out till, in that location. The diner didn’t know the gun was fake so it can’t be presumed he no longer felt his life was in imminent danger. Things are not always what they appear to be from limited video surveillance so it’s unwise to jump to conclusions without a thorough investigation of the facts. But it’s a fair guess that the diner will be no-billed by a grand jury.

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