This is a great example of why some people should have conceal carry gun permits and why we have a 2nd amendment.

Man who shot robber at AA gathering tells his harrowing tale

The man who shot to death a gun-wielding would-be robber Saturday night at a Five Points Alcoholics Anonymous gathering spot is a well-known local attorney and an AA member who says he’d do it again in similar circumstances.

“I had two choices — maybe get killed and robbed — and I’m not sure what might have happened to the other people with me — or draw my weapon and fire,” said Jim, 61, who spoke to The State in his law offices Wednesday afternoon.

Jim admitted he was the man who fired the gun Saturday night. He asked that his last name not be used until any retaliatory threats against him can be assessed. Police say the possibility of retribution might exist but refuse to be specific.

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Since the shooting of Kayson Helms, 18, of Edison, N.J., Saturday night, police have kept Jim’s name secret and released only a sketchy account of what happened when a young man entered the AA center near USC, brandished a gun and demanded money from what Jim said was a group of four people.

Wednesday, in a 90-minute interview at his law office, Jim recounted — in second-by-second detail — how the shooting took place. He showed a reporter a .32- caliber Kel-Tec semi-automatic he said was similar to the one he drew from a rear pocket and used to shoot Helms.

“Police asked me the question, ‘Were you afraid?’ I was concerned. There wasn’t time to be afraid. Till afterwards.”

Seeing the assailant’s gun, he said, he knew he had to take action. “I didn’t want him to get a chance to fire. I didn’t know what he was going to do. He didn’t say, ‘This is a stickup — your money or your life.’ But if somebody presents a pistol, they’ve just said that.”

At the time, Jim’s tiny, black lightweight pistol, loaded with hollow-point bullets that flatten when they strike a body, creating more damage than regular bullets, was encased in a special wallet-style holster, he said.

Columbia police confiscated the .32-caliber gun he used, Jim said.

“I don’t think I did anything anybody else in the same circumstances wouldn’t have done. If I’d left my gun in the car, or at home, I might not be sitting here talking to you,” said Jim, who said he nearly always carries a gun and was carrying a two-shot concealed derringer during Wednesday’s interview.

He graduated from USC’s law school in the 1970s, has had a concealed weapons permit since the early 1980s and practices a variety of civil and criminal law. His voice is gravelly; he smokes three packs of cigarettes a day.

“I didn’t know whether he was going to open fire. He did point and swing his gun this way and that way. We had seven or eight people in the back room.” Those held at gunpoint were in the front room, according to Jim.

“He’s a reputable member of the legal profession,” said Dick Harpootlian, a former 5th Circuit prosecutor. “I’ve tried cases with him and against him. I’m sure the folks down at the AA center Saturday night were glad he was packing heat.”

Jim said the incident took “10 seconds, max” to unfold.

Shortly before 11 p.m. Saturday, Jim was sitting on a sofa in the lounge of the ACOA building, a meeting place for AA members since 1947, talking to a friend.

Jim is a self-described recovering alcoholic who describes alcoholism as a “cruel, cunning, baffling, powerful disease. The desire to drink goes away but comes back all the time.” He said he hasn’t taken a drink since 1981.

Saturday night, a young woman came in the front door, saying, “‘I don’t have money. I have money in the car,’” he said.

“I thought, Why’s she talking about money? Then this kid came around her and started off — ‘Get it up!’ You couldn’t see his gun at that point. He said, ‘Empty your pockets.’ Then I saw his gun.”

The gun was small and silver, and Jim said he knew right away it was a .22- or .25-caliber.

“I thought, Oy! That will hurt — .22s and .25s are very lethal. I wasn’t going to take a chance on him getting a shot off.”

One of the four people in the lounge started emptying his pockets onto the floor, Jim said.

At that point, Jim said, he was maybe six to eight feet from the gunman and had a clear shot across a coffee table. He drew.

“My first shot was dead center on his chest,” said Jim, who demonstrated how he gripped the wrist of his right gun hand with his left hand to steady his aim.

“With that, he kind of turned to his right, exposing his left side, and his gun arm went up. I’m pretty sure the second shot hit him in the stomach. With that, he did a 180 (a complete turn) and headed back toward the door, and I fired the third shot. I think that’s the one that hit him in the neck.

“I thought I fired a fourth shot. But they (police) only found three spent casings. ….. In the stress, I thought I fired four.”

Jim said he never was able to count the number of bullets remaining in his Kel-Tec because police took his weapon. The gun holds seven rounds, but Jim only loads six.

The assailant “disappeared out the door,” and, according to police, made his way up a walkway, across railroad tracks toward Laurens Street, where he collapsed.

Jim called 9-1-1, gave them his name, said he had a concealed weapons permit and that he had just shot an armed robber at the ACOA center on College Street.

Still talking to the dispatcher, Jim said, he went outside the building.

“I saw this white Lincoln pull up… .. It looked to me like a white guy in a white shirt got out and went up the walkway.”

Two minutes “at the most” elapsed between the time he dialed 9-1-1 and the time police arrived, Jim said. The Lincoln vanished. But a distraught young woman remained near the fallen man, he said.

Jim said police no doubt told the media earlier this week that his life was in danger because of “all the unanswered questions about the shooting.”

For one thing, Jim said, there was the vanished Lincoln. Then, the distraught woman could have been Helms’ “girlfriend. …. She was sobbing and crying near the body, and police took her into custody,” he said.

“I’m not sure whether there is a threat. I just find it weird that some guy from Edison, New Jersey …. would be in Columbia, South Carolina and trying to rob people.”

Columbia police have declined to release details, including any information about Helms, saying they are investigating. Prosecutors have not said whether they will charge Jim.

Ferrillo said he heard three shots in quick succession. Within a minute, he was watching events unfold from a close vantage point.

He said he saw a distraught woman crying loudly near the body on the walkway. Ferillo said police got to the scene within a minute or two.

Ferrillo said police asked who had “the gun” and saw a man fitting Jim’s description raise his hands.

Jim said he when he first got a concealed weapons permit, he had a need for it but declined to give details. He also declined to say whether he had ever fired at a person before.

These days, he said, he carries a concealed pistol “because at this point, I feel almost undressed without it. I don’t have a problem leaving it in a car when I go to church or into the courthouse. I can live with that.”

He has rehearsed shooting scenarios in his mind. “Have I ever thought about such a scenario before? Sure. Everybody who carries a gun has thought about it.”

Yet, it still came as a surprise to have to fire Saturday, he said. “That was the last thing on my mind that night.”

Jim shook his head. Violence is everywhere, he said.

“I did what I had to do, that’s the way I see it. And under the laws we have in place, I think I’m immune from civil or criminal prosecution. I’d do it again, if the same circumstances arose… .

“I’m just sorry the whole incident occurred. I would have preferred he not come in… .

“I’m okay with this. Sorry I had to do it. It wasn’t something I wanted to do. But you do what you’ve got to do.”