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February 23, 2009

Parking Violation

On February 6 in Memphis, Tennessee, Robert “Dutch” Scherwin was leaving Villa Castrioti, a restaurant where he and his three children were celebrating the birthdays of his father and father-in-law. In the restaurant’s parking lot, Scherwin began arguing with Harry Coleman and his wife about how close Coleman’s Hummer was parked next to his car, a GMC Yukon Denali. According to Scherwin’s son, the argument boiled over, leading Coleman to reach into the Hummer for his handgun. Coleman then shot Scherwin, who was unarmed, in the torso. Scherwin died in the parking lot in front of his three children.

One witness at the scene, Joseph Sneed, tried to intervene during the argument but backed off when Coleman drove his handgun into his chest. "From seeing the look in his eyes, without him saying it, I felt he was telling me, 'I'm going to kill this man. If you decide to get in the way, you're going to get hurt, too,’” said Sneed.

Police found the handgun used in the shooting in Coleman’s back pocket when he was taken into custody. Coleman, 59, was granted permit to carry a concealed handgun by the state of Tennessee in 2006. That permit has now been suspended. In addition, Coleman faces second-degree murder charges for the slaying of Scherwin. He has been released from jail after posting $50,000 bond and has indicated he will plead innocent to the charges and argue that he acted in self-defense.

Scherwin’s death has made orphans out of his three children: Dallas, 21, Colt, 19, and Savannah, 15. Their mother passed away in 2004 due to complications from rheumatoid arthritis.

Four days after the shooting, Shelby County Mayor A.C. Wharton publicly called for a statewide gun offender registry and felony penalties for first-time offenders who illegally carry guns. Though not without merit, it is unclear how either measure would have prevented Robert Scherwin’s death. Furthermore, Mayor Wharton curiously failed to mention the extensive problems experienced by Tennessee’s concealed carry permitting system. An investigation by the Memphis Commercial Appeal revealed that the Tennessee Department of Safety sent out 99 permit-revocation letters in 2008 to individuals who had successfully renewed permits despite being disqualified from owning firearms due to felony convictions, DUI charges, orders of protection, etc. Mayor Wharton might have also drawn attention to the minimal training requirements for Tennessee concealed carry permit holders—a one-day, one-time class that typically lasts 10 hours.

Shortly after his brother was shot and killed, Butch Schwerin wondered, "Why did it have to escalate? This was a parking space. All you had to do was go out and move your car. That would have been the end of it, not my brother being murdered." Clearly, had a gun not been present, the result of the argument between Robert Scherwin and Harry Coleman would have been, at worst, a fistfight. Nonetheless, there has been no indication from Tennessee’s elected or appointed officials that they are ready—or willing—to address Butch Schwerin’s important question.


  1. CSGV: "Clearly, had a gun not been present, the result of the argument between Robert Scherwin and Harry Coleman would have been, at worst, a fistfight."

    It wasn't the gun that caused Scherwin's death, it was Coleman's willingness to use it when deadly force was not an appropriate response. Blaming this case on the gun is like blaming a DUI incident on a six pack of Coors.

    As with licensed drivers (I bet a lot more then 99 drivers licenses have been revoked in Tennessee), a tiny minority of CCW permit holders have on some occations acted irresponsibly. That does not mean those who do should be lumped into the same catagory with majority who do not.

  2. this story makes me ill.

    self defense case? sorry, staplegun-- that guy is obviously all about gun rights-- so he is definitely one on the gun lobby's side.

    how can anyone read this and NOT conclude regulations need to be tightened and that something in the application process/ownership requirements has to be reviewed and changed.

  3. Anonymous... IF all the facts prove correct in the story, Mr. Coleman is a dangerous hothead and should be prosecuted and convicted of 2nd degree and I trust he is also charged with "assault with a deadly weapon" on Mr. Sneed.

    However, I believe that you're taking some very broad liberties stating that Mr. Coleman is a virulent gun activist and an ardent supporter of the gun lobby; YOU do not know that! And, what bearing might that have on this entire incident? Mr. Coleman having a gun does not automatically put him into your supposed category.

    As to more regulation, application, and ownership requirements for handguns, I sense that your underlying thought is that we can legislate perfection in human beings, "so this can never happen again". Well... that ain't ever going to take place. Even police officers who are supposedly in the vangard of personal and public responsibility and are perceived to possess high levels of proper gun handling skills make big mistakes or abuse their power. Can that be legislated away as well?

  4. Anonymous, please point to the part where I mentioned self defense. It isn't even in my article1 If you are going to respond to me, I would appreciate you responding to what I really said.

    Let me ask you this, do you favor increasing restrictions on obtaining a driver's license every time one person commits vehicular manslaughter?

    If not, then how is this case any different? We are just talking about one person here, not every permit holder.

  5. come on, the guy is using "gun rights" rhetoric to justify a crime. think about it. if he's not one of your guys...than he wants to be. you can't have it both ways...you cant claim kinship with the law abiding gun owners while jettisoning the guys who get in trouble.

    and don't forget that this argument about having the right-to-shoot-when-feeling-threatened came from the gun camp.

    the gun lobby has planted some very dangerous seeds in its effort to sell more guns.


  6. Anonymous... based on your response to thestaplegunkid9, do you embrace the drunken driver that just killed a family of 5 as one of your fraternity?
    I claim kinship with the law abiding gun owner but certainly not those that abuse it, anymore than you do the drunk driver. Both need to be purged from the ranks of our communities and indeed be jettisoned.

    The "right to shoot when threatened" has been established by state law and Mr. Coleman appears to have fallen outside of those boundries. Common law and the states have established these parameters not the "gun camp" as you are so wont to place blame.

    Also, how does anything in this incident allow the "gun lobby" to sell more guns (manufacturers sell guns not the gun lobby)? Mr. Coleman appers to be dead wrong in his handling of the situation and I seriously doubt that any more guns will be sold due to his apparently bad judgement.

  7. Mr. Coleman clearly is a man with rage issues to shoot and murder a father with his children and family present!

    I hope the law is on the Schwerin's side and Coleman is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He should rot in jail for what he did!!

  8. wow! dui's are a great example! i drink socially but when people are injured or killed due to drunk driving, i dont fear a return of Prohibition when society debates new laws.

    it's alarming how the gun lobby has gotten its members to parrot the argument that we can't have any new laws because 1) this will lead to gun confiscation and 2)the "laws on the books" just need to be enforced.

    meanwhile the gun lobby actively pursues a political agenda designed to eliminate most laws on the books.