Gun-toting bystander could add to shootout confusion

Here's a hypothetical situation. Say someone has a concealed handgun permit and gets caught in the middle of a shootout between cops and a bad guy. The innocent permit holder takes cover so as not to get hit by stray bullets, but then sees a clear shot to take out the bad guy. It's probably not advisable, but would it be legal for a concealed permit holder to take the shot?

— Tom, via email

Usually we simply suspend our disbelief during action movies when the innocent bystander saves the day, but for you, Tom, we'll bite.

We checked with Lt. Mike Budreau of the Medford Police Department, and there's a short answer and a long answer. We'll shoot it to you straight and start with the short answer.

"The answer to the question is: It's not illegal," Budreau said of the scenario in question.

Now before you go getting in the middle of gunfights, Tom, there were quite a few asterisks in the long answer. Budreau explained that a bystander shooting bad guys can add a layer of confusion for officers entering in the middle of a dangerous situation without knowing who's playing what role.

"Police roll up and all they see are people shooting each other," he said. "You don't want any police officers mistaking you for the bad guy."

Budreau explained that the privilege to carry a weapon is a separate issue from whether use of deadly force is justified. If you're in danger, you can use your weapon whether you have a conceal/carry permit or you keep it in your trunk.

"You can use deadly force if your life or the life of someone else is in immediate danger," he said.

Budreau remembered a case in the '90s where an armed civilian helped a Central Point officer. Sure enough, we dug into our archives and learned that on May 5, 1995, retired San Diego police officer Jonathan Nicholson stepped in and helped Central Point police Officer Randy Clark during a standoff at a gas station (now Shell) at 1125 E. Pine St., Central Point.

"In certain situations like that case in Central Point, the citizen saved the officer's life because he (Clark) was running out of bullets," Budreau remembered.

Our archives show that Nicholson fired 12 rounds at gunman John Floyd Todd, four of which hit him; Officer Clark fired six shots, all of which went wide and missed. Todd was sentenced in 1996 to five years in prison for two counts of first degree attempted assault for pointing a gun at Nicholson and Clark.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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