commentary (2006-48)

Crime-fighters display different attitudes

Pistol-Packin’ Pols

by Barry Henderson

The extraordinary coincidence of two elected public officials in Knox County using their own firearms to thwart crimes and assist in the apprehension of suspects this month deserves comment.

No sooner had the furor over Knox County Commissioner Greg “Lumpy” Lambert’s defense of his person and property by pulling a pistol on a suspected robber in his business died down to a dull roar when state Sen. Tim Burchett used a pistol to stop a burglary at a warehouse he rents.

Burchett’s  actions, in staking out the previously burglarized warehouse bordered on the comical, or would have, except for the realization that law enforcement has neither the resources nor the inclination to prevent burglaries.

When Burchett rounded up three juveniles and a young adult Nov. 15 at the warehouse on Amherst Road where he stores part of his collection of motorcycles and motorcycle parts, his immediate response to the 911 dispatcher who asked if he was going to shoot anyone was, “No, I’m not going to shoot some kid over a dadgum motorcycle.” A fifth suspect who fled was arrested later.

He said he first told the youngsters to put their hands up, then said to put their hands behind their heads. When one of the kids asked which, Burchett said he told them, “Either one.” If that sounds like something out of the cult tragi-comic film, Raising Arizona , well…

The legislator, who has permit to carry his pistols, then talked with the youths while awaiting an officer to arrive and gave them some of the chocolate-chip cookies he was carrying on his daytime stakeout.

A sometime comedian in his own right, Burchett handled the situation and the ensuing media attention well, without unduly calling attention to himself, other than to proclaim for the press, “I’m sick of crime. I’m sick of being a victim. I’ve been staying up at night trying to catch these guys.” He’d lost three motorcycles and a security camera from the warehouse in the two weeks prior to the showdown.

That contrasts with the attention Lambert grabbed following his own standoff with a young man who pulled a gun on him in his used car lot office on Clinton Highway Nov. 11. Suspicious of the man’s behavior as a potential car customer, Lambert had put his own pistol in his pocket and drew it in time to cow the suspect, who was arrested later and eventually charged with the shooting death earlier that day of a delivery truck driver in a parking lot. Lambert was quicker, and he was lucky.

When the media converged on him, Lambert took the opportunity to point his pistol into a TV camera lens, a blatant violation of good gun-handling practices, though he had also passed the pistol safety course required for his state handgun-carrying permit.

It was yet another example of Lambert’s showing off, but this one was a terrible example to young people who may have been watching the evening news when he drew down on the camera.

It was much worse than his advertising a free firearm with every vehicle purchased from his lot, or wearing a clown suit to a Commission meeting before he declared himself a candidate for office, or any of the other actions that have labeled him a loose cannon (cannon being particularly apropos) on Commission now. His fellow commissioners passed a resolution labeling him “Quick Draw” Lambert.

The editorial Metro Pulse published in its Nov. 16 edition reaffirming the newspaper’s stance that he was and is a clown and should now be considered a dangerous one was met with a tirade of letters from hither and yon defending him.

As a gun owner since I was a teenager, I believe in the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and I have no quibble with the state’s laws allowing for properly educated persons with clean records to be licensed to carry them. But there are bound to be some exceptions, some people I wish had no immediate access to firearms.

I’m not saying everyone who took up for Lumpy is a gun nut, but bless the 2nd Amendment, there is a decided difference between a responsible gun owner and a gun nut, with emphasis on the nut, and Lumpy falls flatly into the latter category.