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New Hampshire Clerk Fired for Defending Himself against Knife-Wielding Robber

Friday, October 18, 2013

On the early morning of Monday, October 14th, 29-year-old Shannon "Bear" Cothran was working his shift at a gas station convenience store in Nashua, N.H., when a man armed with a knife attempted to rob the establishment. Cothran, who has held a permit to carry a firearm since the age of 21, responded to the aggressor by stepping back, drawing a .380-caliber pistol, pointing it at the thief, and telling him that his robbery was a "bad idea and he didn't want to do it." Fortunately, the robber agreed and fled the scene, and the incident resulted in no injuries. Surveillance footage of the incident makes clear the level of danger Cothran found himself in, however, as the knife-wielding thief was within easy striking distance of the clerk at the time Cothran took action.

Since Monday, Cothran has received near universal praise for his responsible exercise of the right to self-defense, with his story having appeared on several television stations, in print, and online. Unfortunately, one of the few voices of opposition is that of Cothran's employer, Nouria Energy, based in Worcester, Mass. Despite Cothran's 10 years of service and the pleas of his store and district managers, the company fired Cothran only a few hours after the incident, citing a violation of the company's weapons policy.

In a news release responding to public backlash over the firing, Nouria Energy defended their decision to fire Cothran. In addition to a passage explaining their zero-tolerance policy for guns in the workplace, the statement notes, "We specifically train our employees on how to react during a robbery attempt to prevent the situation from escalating. Cashiers are instructed to give the intruder what they ask for in an attempt to resolve the conflict peacefully and as soon as possible."

A blanket policy such as Nouria Energy's might be easy to endorse from an office building in Massachusetts, but it neglects to take into account the realities on the ground that Cothran and other workers across the country face every day. This stance on self-defense effectively subjects employees to the control, and thus the mercy, of violent criminals. The thief who accosted Cothran early Monday morning showed an obvious willingness to back up his demands with violent force.  While Nouria Energy may have been willing to bet Cothran's life on a bare hope the criminal could be appeased, from their standpoint, they can always hire another employee.  For Cothran himself, however, the stakes were considerably higher. 

Nouria's policy, moreover, relies on a false premise. The 1988 study, Crime Control Through the Private use of Armed Force, authored by Florida State University Professor Gary Kleck, dispelled the notion that unarmed compliance increases the likelihood of a favorable outcome for a victim of violent crime. Kleck found, "[v]ictim resistance with guns is associated with lower rates of both victim injury and crime completion for robberies and assaults than any other victim action, including nonresistance."

Cothran's experience highlights the untenable situation that some employers have foisted on their employees who work in potentially dangerous environments, and he is not the first to in lose his job over such policies. In November 2012, Devin McLean was fired from his job at an Autozone in York County, Va., after he retrieved a gun from his vehicle and stopped an armed robbery by a man police believe was responsible for over 30 robberies dating back to 2010. In 2004 and in 2008, Pizza Hut fired delivery drivers who defended themselves from criminal attack. Delivery drivers face particular danger, as armed robbers often target these workers by luring them to an ambush site of their choosing; the annals of the Armed Citizen column are replete with such cases.

Similar to the calm demeanor he showed in thwarting the armed robber, Cothran appears to be taking his termination in stride, choosing not to dwell on the fact that he lost his job, but instead on the fact that he may have saved his own life. In an interview following the incident, Cothran told a reporter, "I can find another job… A paycheck's a paycheck. I don't really care where it comes from. I cannot justify in my mind trying to save my job at the risk of not ever seeing my family and friends again."

On a positive note, Cothran has been met with an outpouring of support from his community. One of Cothran's friends has organized a protest outside Cothran's former workplace, located at 301 Main St. Nashua, N.H., set for Saturday, October 19th at 2p.m, and others have set up a fundraising effort to help get him through any financial difficulties while he is between jobs.

As for those in the Northeast seeking to avoid Nouria Energy owned establishments in the future, the company's website offers a convenient store locator tool with which to do so.  It may well be that the knife-wielding individual Cothran encountered, and others like him, are also choosy about the establishments at which they ply their "trade."  If so, policies like the one that cost Cothran his job can only help them with theirs.

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