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Emerging details: Ferguson teen was robbery suspect; gun sales spike

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This morning’s media rush to identify the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot teenager Michael Brown last Saturday also revealed that the teen, described as 6’4” and weighing 292 pounds, was the "primary suspect" in a strong-arm robbery that had just occurred.

For several days, there has been a spike in gun sales in the St. Louis area associated to the civil unrest in Ferguson, according to the local CBS affiliate. There is no indication this morning that a slowdown in sales will accompany the calming atmosphere now being reported.

While many people have rushed to suddenly exercise their Second Amendment rights in the wake of serious violence that included property damage and looting, release of new details leading up to the Brown shooting may carry a lesson about rushing to judgment. Surveillance video images allegedly show Brown grabbing a store clerk in what may have been the theft of cigars from a convenience store.

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Update: Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran, was reportedly dispatched to investigate the store robbery, according to an Associated Press story picked up by several news agencies. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Wilson did not know that Brown was a suspect in the robbery, according to Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson. There was no immediate explanation presently why Wilson stopped Brown and a companion.

The man identified as a witness to the shooting, Dorian Johnson, was allegedly confirmed in the police report to be a second suspect in the strong-arm incident that happened before the shooting. The story that appeared in the Sacramento Bee said that Johnson "told investigators that Brown 'did take cigarillos,' his attorney, Freeman Bosley, told MSNBC."

Johnson has reportedly told reporters that Wilson initially grabbed Brown by the neck as he and Johnson were walking in the street. Wilson allegedly tried to pull Brown into his patrol car before drawing his sidearm and firing a shot. Johnson then reportedly said Brown began running, with Wilson in foot pursuit, firing several more rounds.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Anthony Gray, an attorney for Brown’s family, stating, “We don’t care what happened before (the shooting). It’s irrelevant…Why did you shoot this unarmed teenager who had his hands in the air, period?”

The newspaper further quoted Gray, suggesting that release of the video and police report about the robbery might cause more “trouble and distrust.” Another attorney for the family, Benjamin Crump, asserted that the release of the robbery report was an attempt to "assassinate" Brown's character.

“If this reaction gets very intense,” Gray told the newspaper, “I’m going to blame the people who released this information. You can’t blame the community.”

If the report about the strong-arm robbery is accurate, what’s wrong with its release to the public? Haven’t community activists been demanding full disclosure from the police?

The late Charlton Heston occasionally told a story about how some of his anti-gun Hollywood acquaintances contacted him while the Rodney King riots were unfolding in 1992. They knew he had firearms and they wanted to borrow a gun because they had suddenly discovered an inconvenient truth: California’s waiting period law that they had supported prevented them from buying guns.

Today, if Heston were alive and the same thing happened, he could tell them that they could not borrow a firearm without a background check, the same scenario that would happen if Initiative 594 becomes law in Washington. And forget about doing a check at, say, 10 p.m. or midnight when the barbarians are at the gate.

As the investigation into what actually happened last Saturday on that Ferguson street continues and more facts emerge, it will be educational to see what the various new gun owners – Who else flocks to gun stores when there is civil unrest? After all, people who already own guns don’t need to buy a new one in an emergency – will do with their new hardware. Will they apply for carry permits? Will they take self-defense courses? Will they keep their guns?

That final question may be the most important. Will the new gun owners keep their firearms? Whatever else they may be, riots or even “unrest” can serve as a wake-up call for people who had previously believed that police could keep them and their neighborhoods safe. Natural disasters have the same effect.

A thorough investigation should sort out all of the details about the Brown shooting and determine who did what, and why.

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