Gun rights advocates have a new hero.
Jason Falconer, a part-time police officer who killed an attacker wielding a knife Saturday at the Crossroads Center mall in St. Cloud, Minn., earned high praise from local officials as well as his own trending hashtag on Twitter.
"He was put in unfortunate circumstances. I believe there was divine intervention," Corey Nellis, the police chief in the neighboring city of Avon, said at a news conference Monday. "I think he was the person that needed to be there to prevent it from being worse than it was."
Falconer was reported to be shopping Saturday when Dahir Adan entered the mall and began stabbing people. At least nine were wounded by the time Falconer intervened.
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis said surveillance footage shows the suspect go down and come back up three times as Falconer fires his weapon.
An expert marksman, Falconer quickly became an icon in the debate over gun rights, a real-life example of the long-touted and much-disputed argument that an armed citizenry makes society safer. In the rhetoric of gun rights advocates, he was the proverbial "good guy with a gun."
"Jason Falconer is a gun owner, #NRA-certified instructor, and owner of a shooting range; a good guy with a gun," the NRA tweeted Monday.
Liz Sheld, a gun-rights advocate who goes by Assault Weapon Lizzy on Twitter, blogged on the website PJ Media that the mainstream press often tries to "hush up any stories that follow the 'good guy with gun stops bad guy with a gun' narrative. Especially when the good guy trains other good guys."
Falconer ducked publicity as officials asked people to respect his privacy. But his credentials rapidly spread across the Internet and social media.
For the last 13 years, he has been the owner and president of Tactical Advantage Firearms Training as well as a licensed instructor there. He is also a former police chief in the nearby city of Albany and a competitive shooter.
"If I was going to ask anybody to fire live rounds in a crowded mall, I would trust his abilities next to anybody's," Nellis told reporters.
Firearms experts said that level of skill only comes with extensive training.
Marc Holley, who runs Atlas Defense, a firearms training business in Minneapolis, said the good-guy-with-a-gun argument only holds up if the good guy has been trained to shoot from various distances, take into account what's behind the intended target and communicate with law enforcement to avoid being mistaken for the bad guy.
"There is a whole judgment process on making the decision to fire the weapon," said Holley, who was a Marine reservist for eight years and served in Afghanistan.
"Without training, some people freeze," he said, adding that an emphasis on the constitutional rights of gun owners has overshadowed the necessity of training.
Holley said that Falconer's participation in the U.S. Practical Shooters Assn. is "evidence of how good a tactician he is."
Albany Police Chief Osvaldo Carbajal, who took over for Falconer more than three years ago, said people who want to protect themselves should not stop with getting a gun and a concealed weapon permit.
"People should not just take the basic course, but should have continued training," he said. "It's a perishable skill. Proficiency with a firearm is a skill and you have to use it and practice with it regularly."