The West is known for its quick draw culture, but shooting a man to death for stealing some beer seems like a bit much. On Saturday night, a Texas Quick Stop owner shot and killed a thief who was attempting to make off with two cases of beer, and had made it almost to the doorway of the store with his loot. Neighbors and the media have been quick to blame the victim by pointing out that he was a “known gang member,” as though alleged gang affiliations might justify the decision to use lethal force. (Such language is also used in a form of racial coding to imply that the victim wasn’t white, as many people assume gangs only contain people of color.)
What exactly happened to create this situation, how is the community responding, and what does it say about gun culture not just in the West, but in the United States as a whole?
Store owner Rodney Duve certainly felt confident pulling out a firearm in a situation that could have been resolved more peacefully, and that is, perhaps, where the story begins. While the victim of the shooting hasn’t been identified, media are reporting that he was a 39-year-old man who either attempted to steal one or two cases of beer, depending on reports. Before he could leave the store, Duve shot him in the doorway; the number of shots involved or how quickly they were fatal also isn’t clear.
Duve was arrested at the store, and has since been charged with murder. He’s being held on $35,000 bail, which isn’t very much, but may have been considered appropriate by the judge given factors like whether he’s a flight risk and how much money he has available for raising bail. It’s clear, thus, that law enforcement think he did something that merits closer evaluation, with a prosecutor interested in charging him with murder in a court of law for making the decisions he did.
Certainly some people don’t seem to agree, including not just those who’ve stressed the possible “gang affiliations” of the victim, but neighbors of the store who said things like: “I probably would’ve done the same thing. It’s one of those things where how many times can you be pushed until you fight back. Everybody has their limit.”
Texas is a state with a very active gun culture and one where people are very protective not just of gun rights, but also of personal property — it’s likely that such a situation would have gone down very differently in another state, or even another part of Texas.
But not all Texans can be painted with the same brush. Even as law enforcement pursue criminal prosecution options, neighbors and other critics are saying the shooting death was inappropriate, and that two cases of beer weren’t worth a man’s life. They’re questioning whether this was really the most appropriate way to handle a theft, and supporting the decision to prosecute.
Quick Stops and similar establishments tend to be especially prone to theft, and some thieves are aggressive as well as armed. It’s not unreasonable for the owners of such stores to be frustrated with thieves and concerned about their safety, but that’s why some work behind glass, have panic buttons behind their counters, use cameras for identifying potential thieves among their customers, and take other nonviolent measures for protection and safety. Duve could have turned to any and all of these measures to catch his thief without such tragic consequences, but he apparently went straight for a gun.
Why? The answer to that question is bound up in social attitudes about property, gun culture and the value of human life, and we may learn more about the complexities of the situation in the upcoming trial. What we probably won’t learn is whether Duve regrets his decision or believes he could have handled the situation differently.
Photo credit: Cambridge Brewing Co.