Several days ago there was another police officer-involved shooting in the news. Yet again there was lots of outcry and armchair quarterbacking about how the police should be doing their job. Without getting into the specifics of that case, I would like to make some general observation about the nature of people who have guns and people who interact with them.
When you take a basic gun safety class, one of the first things you learn is never to draw your weapon if you are not prepared to use it. You never want to needlessly escalate a conflict that can be resolved without pulling out a weapon, and it’s clear that pulling out a gun instantly ups the ante in any conflict about a hundred degrees. Regardless of what was happening beforehand, once a gun comes into play, things get serious.
That’s part of the reason that police, who we entrust with such life-and-death situations, need to have that option at their disposal. They need an instant trump card.
And that’s another reason that, if you have any kind of sense, you don’t pull a gun on a cop.
If I draw my weapon on some random yahoo on the street, he may or may not be armed. I may or may not be up against someone who is equally able to engage me. But if I draw against a police officer, I know with 100% certainty that the person standing opposite me has a weapon which is operable, loaded, and ready to go. He is trained to use it, and less likely than a civilian to miss his target under pressure. So unless I am full-on crazy or suicidal (which some people are- most people are familiar with the term “suicide by cop”, which is always a tragedy on all sides), I would be an absolute fool to pull a gun on a cop, much less point it at him.
When people take classes to carry weapons, they learn about what conditions allow them to shoot legally. They learn when they can and cannot draw their weapons (There is an actual crime called brandishing, and if you go around just showing off your gun, you can be guilty of this, even if you weren’t trying to be threatening. I guess some people are threatened by the mere presence of a gun in their midst, so you have to be extra careful. Yes, the last sentence was deliberately snarky. Sorry. You do have a right to your opinion on this. For real.). They learn how to de-escalate confrontations, because it is always better to walk away than to have to get embroiled in explaining why you had to shoot someone. Nobody who is legally carrying a weapon (Almost nobody? I would like to believe it is nobody, and statistics would bear me out when we are talking about legal carry permit holders…) wants to go around shooting people. Contrary to what some would paint a picture of, legal gun holders are peace-and-justice kind of folks who want their gun rights because they are trying to avoid violence, not perpetuate it.
I think that in general we have gotten so into the habit of assuming that police are wrong so much of the time that we often don’t let facts get in the way of us forming an opinion. I am not trying to say that police are never wrong. I am not trying to say that there aren’t bad cops, or those who abuse their authority. But the majority are good and they went into police work because they had noble intentions, not because they wanted to lord their position over lowly folks in downtrodden neighborhoods. Often police came from similar backgrounds to those they patrol. Think about it- how often do you find an upper class rich kid who throws it all away to become a beat cop? Okay, I rest my case.
When we have people in the media who play snippets of tapes or flashes of sound, we get a distorted sense of reality. When a grand jury who has had an opportunity to hear all of the facts in a given situation find that an officer acted justly and people go bonkers because they think they know better, we have to ask ourselves what is coming into play to make people with less information think they are in a position to know more. When people threaten the families of officers with violence and death, we know we are living in a world turned upside down.
Listen, it’s a pretty simple equation: if you pull a gun on an armed man, expect to get shot. If the armed man is a cop, you can expect to get shot accurately. On the plus side, the wound will probably be fatal, so you won’t suffer too much, and his partner will shoot you too, so that’s extra insurance. He will warn you first, and he will give you time to do reasonable things, like drop your own weapon, raise your hands (so they can verify you are not reaching for other weapons), and look like you are willing to listen to them. Very straightforward stuff.
The world without police would be a pretty frightening place. I know that, in spite of being armed myself, when I dial 9-1-1, I sure as heck want someone to show up, pronto. If I need help, I don’t want the media or the ACLU or Al Sharpton to come to my aid- I want some of America’s finest at my doorstep or wherever I am when I placed that call. And if I am the one on the wrong end of their orders, I have no problem with listening in the moment and sorting it out afterward. Because I don’t just live my life by what I hear on the news; I try to live my life using common sense.
I just wish that was a little more common…