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Bullets whistled around a busy Bennett Valley shopping center on Tuesday afternoon, shattering two shop windows and slamming into a carpet van parked outside, possibly twice. Luckily, none of those bullets found flesh.

Call it the Miracle on Yulupa Avenue.

A pair of hooded robbers, one armed with a shotgun and the other wielding a hammer, burst into Bennett Valley Jewelers at about 1 p.m. While one menaced customers and staff with the shotgun, the other began smashing jewelry cases with the hammer, police said.

It had to be terrifying. And that was before the shooting started.

Don't get me wrong here, because I wouldn't feel badly at all had one of those robbers stopped one of those bullets. You reap what you sow.

But that wasn't the case. When a jewelry store clerk opened fire with a handgun inside that store Tuesday afternoon, he escalated an already-bad situation. He not only endangered the lives of everyone inside the store, but a lot of people outside, as well.

I support a person's right to defend himself, even if that defense includes using a firearm. But with rights come responsibilities, and I have to wonder if that store clerk made the responsible choice.

According to Julie Johnson's story this morning, police said "the victim fired several rounds to defend himself." We don't know what "several" adds up to, but an employee of a nearby store said she heard "pop, pop, pop, pop."

Regardless of the exact number of shots fired, none of them hit their intended target. Two bullets went through the front windows of the jewelry store, and one (maybe one of those two) went through the passenger-side window of a van in the parking lot outside. One bullet may also have flattened a tire on that van.

Like the number of shots fired, we don't know exactly how many people were in the jewelry store at the time. Johnson's story says "staff members and several patrons," along with, of course, the two robbers. Then there were the people outside of the store who happened to be driving or walking by.

Which leads me to conclude that it was more likely the shots fired by the store employee would hit an innocent bystander than one of the robbers. And that it's only a matter of luck that didn't happen.

It's easy for me to play Monday-morning quarterback here; I wasn't confronted by a thug with a shotgun on Tuesday. But before we start handing out kudos for a man of action who thwarted an armed robbery, consider this:

The robbers fled the store with jewelry, which is what they came for. They also fled with their health, despite the intervention of the man with the handgun. And they were captured by police within about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, the lives of store employees, customers and passersby were put at risk by a man who fired a gun, apparently wildly, several times.

Sure, he had a right to defend himself. But except for dumb luck, that right might have come at the cost of an innocent life.

No amount of jewelry is worth that trade.

Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.

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