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March 15, 2010

Hit and Gun

Concealed carry advocates frequently talk about their imminent need to be armed in public, saying things like, “When seconds count, the police are minutes away.” Unfortunately, what some concealed handgun permit holders consider to be self-defense can rightfully be deemed aggression by others. Additionally, permit holders sometimes display little interest in the assistance of law enforcement even when they are seconds away, as a recent tragedy in Texas reveals.

On March 3, Sonya Randle and her 13-year old daughter Alexis Wiley were driving home from a high school basketball game in Houston, Texas, when Richard Calderon, 24, ran a stop sign and hit their car with his 1998 Cadillac. Before Randle could get out of her Nissan Altima to talk to Calderon, he sped off, leaving the scene of the accident. Randle followed Calderon and was able to get his license plate number. She then passed him to continue her drive home. At that point, Calderon began to chase Randle. After closing the distance between the two vehicles, he drew a 9 mm handgun and fired two rounds into the Altima’s rear windshield. Alexis, who was sitting in the back seat, was hit in the head by one of the bullets. She died from her injuries the next morning at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

Randle gave police the license plate number and they located Calderon at the address where the Cadillac was registered. Calderon had covered the vehicle with a tarp. He turned over his handgun and indicated he possessed a permit to carry a concealed handgun. Calderon claimed he had acted in “self-defense” when he saw a front-seat passenger in Randle’s car lean out of the window holding “something shiny.”

Sgt. Brian Harris of the Houston Police Department Homicide Division doesn't buy it. He stated, “Pursuing is not acting in self-defense. [Calderon] was able to clearly articulate there was no imminent threat to him—whatever threat he perceived had already passed.” Sgt. Harris continued, “His story doesn't match the ten other witnesses that we have—and that's the problem.”

Calderon was charged with felony murder and made an initial court appearance on the morning of March 5, posting $50,000 bond. While he went free, family and friends of Alexis Wiley mourned her death. One of her classmates at Johnston Middle School said, “Everyone is walking around and they’re crying, even if they didn’t know her.”

Road rage is a common phenomenon in the United States, and this is not the first time Ordinary People has commented on stories about such incidents involving concealed handgun permit holders (including violent encounters in Fairfax, Knoxville, Memphis, Port St. Lucie and Pembroke Pines). According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “an average of at least 1,500 men, women, and children are injured or killed each year in the United States as a result of ‘aggressive driving.’”

Meanwhile, there were only 204 instances of justifiable homicide with a firearm by American citizens in all of 2008, according to the FBI.

Had Calderon not been carrying a handgun on March 3, Alexis Wiley would probably still be alive. And Calderon, at worst, would be dealing with the consequences of leaving the scene of an accident where no one was injured. Instead he is facing murder charges, and as Sgt. Harris noted, “you have two families’ lives that are destroyed.”

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