Thursday, July 26, 2012

A NY Times Op-Ed by a Retired Police Officer on Guns

Michael Black wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that reinforces some of the points I made in my last post.

The last shooting incident I was involved in happened at 3 in the morning on Dec. 26, 2010, my last Christmas before I retired. We responded to a report of two men arguing, one threatening to shoot the other. My radio blared, “Shots fired! Man with a gun.” When I reached one man, running in the darkness between two houses, he had already been shot by another officer. When the officer had ordered the man to stop and identify himself, the man had pointed a pistol at him. The officer ducked behind his car door and fired half the bullets in his Glock 21 before finally hitting the offender once in the left buttock. We eventually found the shooter’s silver semiautomatic deep in a snowdrift.

The suddenness and confusion of that moment points out the folly of the politician’s belief that an armed civilian could have easily taken out James Holmes. Imagine the scene: speakers blasting, larger-than-life heroes and villains on the screen, and suddenly real gunshots, a man in a gas mask firing one of three weapons — a shotgun, handgun and rifle, with extended magazines for extra ammo capacity — into the panicking crowd. Even a highly trained, armed police officer would have been caught off guard. Try adding a bunch of untrained, armed civilians into the mix — this type of intervention could have made things much worse.

"The politician" he refers to in the second paragraph above is Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who made similar points to the firearms instructor I referenced. Black makes the point that even experienced law enforcement or military personnel will probably be caught by surprise in a scenario where someone opens fire. They may respond inappropriately. The officer's response in the first paragraph above was probably appropriate - but it was of a higher level than ultimately necessary, precisely because confrontations tend to be confusing, a point I mentioned earlier but didn't emphasize enough. This gives lie to Black's confidence that he could easily and quickly taken Holmes down. It gives lie to the stance that we can expect armed civilians to quickly and easily dispatch armed criminals with no collateral damage.

Black also speaks of the heavy responsibility that attaches to owning a weapon. "Despite what many people think, it’s not something to be taken lightly," he says. He is to my right on gun control, but he talks favorably of weapon registries and tracking of purchases:

Illinois is routinely called the “most repressive state” by gun rights groups. It requires everyone to obtain a firearm owner’s identification card before purchasing firearms and ammunition. This gives the police another tool to work with if an armed crook is caught without a card. It also creates a paper trail for repeated, in-state purchases. Perhaps if some kind of effective tracking safeguard had existed in Colorado, James Holmes’s purchases — all of which were legal — might have been flagged.

The pro- and anti-gun groups need to sit down and let common sense rule. We register automobiles and require proof of driving proficiency before granting driving licenses. Is it so unreasonable to consider a national or state-by-state registry for firearms? While I’m not totally opposed to concealed carry laws, why not require comprehensive background checks, psychological screening and training? And while it might be considered un-American to prevent an ordinary citizen from owning an assault rifle, would it be too much to ask why he needs to have a specially modified 100-round magazine?

The only true disagreement I have with what he said is that he implies that both pro- and anti-gun groups have not let common sense rule - when in fact it is mainly the pro-gun groups' fault.

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