Why does Heck Tate does not want to shoot Tim Johnson in Chapter 10 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The sheriff of Maycomb County, Heck Tate is an old friend of Atticus Finch. Atticus always addresses the sheriff as "Heck," but Tate respectfully defers, calling Atticus "Mister Finch." Tate does not have a problem killing Tim Johnson, the rabid dog; it was probably not his first encounter with rabies. However, knowing that Atticus was once known as "Ol' One Shot... the deadest shot in Maycomb County," Tate decides to hand the rifle over to a better shooter--a skilled marksman. Atticus objects, but "Tate almost threw the rifle at Atticus," who responds by calmly putting a single shot between Tim's eyes. It is all a surprise to Jem and Scout, who never knew about their father's hidden talent. Sheriff Tate later tells Atticus that

"You haven't forgot much, Mr. Finch. They say it never leaves you." (Chapter 10)