A police officer in NY had to decide within a split second whether he should shoot an armed man holding a young woman hostage. At first the perp had the gun to her head and was saying he was going to kill her. Then he raised the gun and pointed it at the officer. According to reports there was very little time to talk and de-escalate and this kind of thing is the toughest call any law enforcement officer has to make. Eight rounds were fired. Seven hit the perp and one hit the girl. My heart aches for this young lady’s family and for the officer. The officer is on sick leave and I’m sure he is probably suffering the immense psychological pain that comes with this kind of incident. He will have to carry the burden of this unintentional victim for the rest of his days. This is one of the many reasons why more police officers die by committing suicide than are killed by felons every year. We ask these men and women to carry an incredibly heavy responsibility and burden when we ask them to carry deadly weapons in their community’s defense.
This officer had served 8 years in the New York Police Department and 12 years in Nassau County (basically this is Long Island and much more suburban than the various NYC Burroughs) . 7 out of 8 bullets hit their target—that’s an accuracy level far, far above the average police officer’s accuracy in these kinds of situations where, if they’re really, really good, only about 50% of the bullets fired will actually strike the target. Some studies show average hit rates as low as 20% at a distance of 7 feet. Do YOU like those odds, if it was you or a loved one being held hostage? This low hit percentage is precisely why the policy for such situations is to “talk and de-escalate”. Talking and not automatically firing reduces the odds that anyone will be killed or injured. Thousands upon thousands of stand-offs get resolved peacefully without any shots fired. We only hear about the ones where it doesn’t work, but the reality is that it usually works. I’m NOT saying the officer in this situation did the wrong thing or that he was a bad shot. Far from it. He did a damn good job to hit the guy as much as he did! And I would never question his judgement call. I wasn’t there. His department will take care of that investigation 1.
The point is that this news story, and the thousands just like it over many decades, demonstrate that even with good training and experience, the innocent still can and do get hurt. The average gun toting American has never taken a single shooting course. They may go to the range and they may do a lot of hunting, but at no point do the paper targets or the deer shoot back or threaten the lives of others. The average American hasn’t had extensive and repetitive crisis response training. They don’t get periodically certified based on their consistency and accuracy with a particular weapon. Nor have they had all the other LEO training that teaches an officer on how to handle violent and potentially violent situations both with and without a weapon–so they have fewer tools with which to handle a crisis situation and are more likely to draw than a trained officer would be. They won’t have had the first aid training of a LEO. They simply will not have the same skillset as a LEO would have to make such a judgement call. The average American watches Tombstone and plays Call of Duty on an Xbox and they think they’re ready to protect their fellow citizens 2. So to all the wannabe gun toting heroes running around who think IF they had been there they would have taken out the perp John Wayne-style and all the innocent people would have been saved–I call BS, yet again.
On a related note, yesterday we lost not one but two City of Phoenix public servants in the line of duty–a police officer and a firefighter. They were both very young and both killed by motor vehicles. The firefighter was crushed between two emergency vehicles–that’s right, crushed by trained emergency vehicle drivers. The officer was performing a DUI stop on a surface road when he was struck by a passing vehicle, an incredibly sad but common occurrence in the U.S. If you wish to offer your condolences and/or donate to help their families (BTW, they make diddly squat in pay compared to what they could have made in private industry) here is a link.
Motor vehicles are deadly weapons even when they are operated correctly. You can drive absolutely perfectly and still get hit and killed by a bad driver. But let’s face it we need cars to get around 3 and the car culture isn’t going away any time soon 4. But we also recognize that they’re dangerous necessities and as a result we require licensing, insurance and some kind of skills test to get or renew that license. Yet we don’t have such a thing for guns.
Many will counter that guns are a right and driving is a privilege. Unfortunately for them, that argument doesn’t fly. Guns are a right but they are a dangerous right. We should control them for the sake of safety like we control not only privileges like driving but also other rights such as Free Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of the Press, Property Ownership, etc. None of these other rights and privileges are absolute. You can legally own land but you can’t do anything you want to it. You can’t by a lot in Suburbia and then decide to put a mini-landfill on it. You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater. You can’t 5 advocate for a particular candidate from the pulpit and keep your non-taxable status. You can’t 6 reveal the identities of the U.S. undercover agents in the Press and not get prosecuted for it. There are limits to all of them. The 2nd Amendment is the ONLY right that conservatives insist should be absolutely unregulated in spite of the fact that the law itself demands that it be “well regulated”. Yet, we do regulate every other deadly thing in our society.
Gun control isn’t unconstitutional. Endangering your fellow citizens should be. Let’s put some common sense controls in place.
1. Every police department in the country requires an investigation when shots are fired by an officer regardless of whether there are any actual shooting victims or not. In fact in some departments if an officer even unholsters their weapon, they are REQUIRED to submit a “user of force” report. In other departments, the report is only required if the weapon is drawn and pointed at a target. These policies differ depending on location. In somewhere like LA, they have to draw their weapon all the time and submitting a UOF report for every time would grind the department to a halt. But in suburban areas, drawing a weapon is the exception, not the rule. Regardless, if the officer uses force, he is then expected to prove that the use of force was required in that situation. In the case of a shooting, the officer must prove that use of deadly force was necessary regardless of whether someone died or not. They don’t just take the officer’s word for it either. They interview the officer, their partner, both visual and auditory witnesses, the perp and any victims. They look at the medical records. They look at security camera and dash mounted cameras. They retrieve the shell casings and if possible the bullets. They take the weapon and put it under lock and key. They put the officer on admin leave during the investigation. They fire the weapon in question and compare it to the bullets recovered. It’s a full investigation except the officer isn’t presumed innocent. The fact that he fired a shot is known. The only thing in question is “was it justified”? For the most part this system works. It’s rare that a dirty or incompetent cop lasts very long. When dirty cops are found, the corruption usually extends up into the higher ranking officers so that such investigatory efforts are thwarted. In those cases, the media and other local government agencies notice a pattern and step in to root out the corruption. In spite of what Hollywood likes to tell you, systemic corruption such as the LAPD Rampart Scandal are the exception, not the rule.
2. Some will say ‘then maybe Americans should get this training’. Really? You want everyone in the U.S. to be trained to the level of police officers? Because that is what it would take and we would STILL suffer these unintentional deaths. Last time I checked we didn’t live in a failed, third world state. This isn’t Somalia where everyone is a potential threat all the time. This is supposed to be the Land of the Free and it can hardly be that if we all have to run around armed to the teeth and “en guarde” every moment like a LEO has to be. Never mind the fact that the majority of people in the U.S. wouldn’t make successfully through LEO training because they aren’t physically and mentally capable of completing said training. And before you say I’m being a snob, I include myself in this category. I went through LEO training in my 20’s. At 43, I’m not entirely sure I could do it again.
3. Lord knows we don’t have decent public transportation options in this state.
4. The oil and gas industry giants are making damn sure of that
5. At least, we’re not supposed to do it. Although I’ve heard stories of many, many Christian preachers encouraging people to vote for the white guy in the last election. This mixing of religion and politics make us no better than the religious zealots who control Iran or used to run the Taliban. We’re supposed to be better than that. America is not supposed to be a Theocracy. Thomas Jefferson probably rolls in his grave every time a preacher gets political in church.
6. Again, we’re not supposed to do it and if we do we should be punished for it. Except for Dick Cheney and company, of course. He outed Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA agent through his adviser, Scooter Libby, to a New York Times reporter because Plame’s husband had the temerity to report in the Press that Iraq did not have WMD’s in the run up to the Iraqi Invasion. Cheney wanted that damn war so bad he could taste it. After all, Halliburton, a company with whom Cheney’s financial fortune was entangled, was expected to make tens of millions of dollars out of the conflict. Libby was eventually convicted of lying and obstructing a grand jury investigation into the Plame affair. He was protecting Dick, of course. Libby was given a commutation by President Bush, conveniently. There were no consequences for Darth Cheney, however. Had it been you or I that outed a CIA agency, we would have served hard time in a federal prison.