Parking Violation

On February 6 in Memphis, Tennessee, Robert €œDutch € 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.

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