Why didn’t the gun fire?
No one seemed to know then, and almost 50 years later we still don’t know. But Augusta Police Officer J.R. Rouse is glad that on a Monday night in November 1976, a bullet headed toward his mid-section jammed in the barrel of a .32-caliber handgun.
According to the story in The Augusta Chronicle, Rouse, then 31, and his partner noticed a man stagger out of a bar on Milledgeville Road near Roselle Street.
He looked drunk, said Rouse, a police veteran known as “R.C.”
There was a lot of traffic, so Rouse and the partner, a police cadet, got out to get the man some help or place him in custody.
The man fell as they neared the police car. Rouse leaned down to help him and the man came up with the pointed pistol and said, “I’m going to kill you.”
Rouse, powerfully built and nearly 6 feet tall, was an easy target.
He said he heard the gun “pop,” but “it didn’t sound like a regular gun, but I could feel the fire from the barrel.”
Rouse looked again and saw the gun two feet away aimed at his stomach.
“I thought he had a play gun,” he said later. “I thought it was a cap gun when it first went off, but you think one thing and do another – you still have to react to the incident.”
That’s what Rouse did. He grabbed the man’s gun with one hand, holding the hammer so it couldn’t fire. He drew his service revolver with the other hand. He said he could have shot the man, but thought he had the situation under control.
His partner had called in backup and the policemen soon had the gunman subdued and the weapon out of his hand.
It came as “a total surprise,” Rouse said afterward. The man did not appear armed or acting aggressively.
“I guess it just wasn’t my time,” he said.
Rouse confessed he was reluctant to tell his wife about the near shooting, but knew he had to. “She got frightened and worried,” he said. “She was upset for a while.”
He also said he did not plan to miss church that upcoming Sunday.
So why didn’t the gun fire?
The 1976 story doesn’t say. One detective told the newspaper it might have just been an old bullet in an old gun.
The story also did not identify the 57-year-old charged with aggravated assault and several weapons violations. but another story said his name was W.H. Cummings.
Most of the records from the old Augusta Police Department no longer exist. Even the original newspaper photo of Rouse holding the gun could not be found in the newspaper’s photo archive leaving only the grainy clipping from 1976.
Rouse would eventually leave the police department, which later merged with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, for a job with the Veterans Administration medical center.
A Vietnam veteran, he died in 2005, 30 years after a night when a bullet fired point-blank jammed in a gun barrel.
Bill Kirby has reported, photographed and commented on life in Augusta and Georgia for 45 years.