Sunday, October 15, 2006

In My Book, This Policy Lacks Some Serious Ammunition

I read an editorial yesterday by a local writer named Dawn McMullan, who encouraged the city of Dallas to join other municipalities in banning the sale and possession of toy guns that don't look obviously fake--meaning ones that weren't either brightly-colored or transparent. No problem here; that seems like a common-sense policy in today's world. But one paragraph really struck me:
Now, no child in Dallas has been shot because he or she was carrying a toy gun. But other youngsters haven't been so lucky. A 17-year-old boy in Harlem. A 10-year-old boy in Memphis. A 16-year-old boy in Las Vegas. A 13-year-old mentally challenged boy in San Francisco.

These were all young people carrying replicas of guns that were so realistic that police officers couldn't tell the difference. The officers shot all of them. They were doing their job of protecting.

In such situations, it probably was easy to be confused.
This brings up a question that I've had for years, but I guess that, until now, I haven't thought about it much when it was time to write a blog post: Why do police officers shoot to kill?

Seriously, I'd like to know the logic behind it. And I'm not necessarily talking about situations where someone is holding another person hostage or is in the process of robbing a bank or has already shot at an officer; I'm talking about a situation where an officer happens upon a person who has an object that looks like a gun, or maybe even has some other sort of weapon, like a knife. Especially when that person is a kid. Why shoot to kill? This is a situation that has happened more than a few times in the Metroplex in the time that I've lived here, and I've never understood it.

Here's how I see it: If the officer sees someone with a weapon, especially if it's not pointed directly at the officer, the objective should not be to kill the person. It should be to knock them down. Then that person can be taken into the criminal justice system, where an investigation and possible trial can determine what happened. But if the officer kills the person right away, he or she is acting as the judge, jury and executioner, and that's not how our system of justice is set up in this country....and to me, that goes double when the person involved is a juvenile.

As I said before, I'm not much of a gun guy to begin with, but this is something that's always troubled me. Any enlightenment from someone with experience in this area would be appreciated.

IN THE COMMENTS: I'm not getting very much support for my position so far, but I defend myself by invoking this 2001 story where Secret Service agents successfully used the shoot-to-knock-down procedure to apprehend a man who tried to scale the White House wall.

Today's lesson? How not to be a sitting duck: In one of last week's posts, we talked about the Wisconsin proposal to arm teachers. Now Dr. Helen reports that students in the Ft. Worth suburb of Burleson are learning how to defend themselves in case a gunman takes over their school. (And does it make me a hypocrite to think this is a good idea and that police automatically shooting to kill is a bad idea? Not to my mind; those are two completely different situations.)

At least the agents didn't shoot her: A Calfornia teenager found out that writing "Kill Bush" on her MySpace site wasn't the greatest idea; should she really have been shocked when FBI agents came to her school to talk with her?

Hallelujah for the wet stuff: When's the last time anyone here in the Metroplex can remember it raining all day? And there's more in store for tomorrow...


Jazzy G said...

It's obvious that we don't have the entire story here, and that only a part of it was quoted to make their position sound more valid.

A trained police officer wouldn't just shoot someone unless that gun was pointed at them or someone else. Shooting them is always a last resort.

Pardon the pun, but I think you jumped the gun on this one.

Jazzy G said...

Oh yeah, and officers are trained to kill because in any given situation it isn't like they can just walk up to the suspect and say, "Hey, if I shoot you once in the shoulder are you going to keep coming at me or will you drop to the ground and stop trying to hurt people?"

Anonymous said...

Well said, Mr. G and it's sorta obvious that Kev's not a gun kinda person. Unless we have had had a gun pointed at us )(by someone who would be willing to use it on said "us", we have absolutley no business criticizing.

Jazzy G said...

It's Miss G, but thanks anonymous. You said it better with fewer words!

Kev said...

Anon--I'll concede that I've never had a gun pointed at me, but you're missing my point; I'm not talking about Joe Citizen here. I believe that trained professionals in law enforcement should be held to higher standards than the general public.

Again, let me reiterate: When a law enforcement officer shoots someone, the primary objective should not be to kill; it should be to knock them down. This procedure worked very well in 2001, when a man who was trying to scale the White House fence was shot in the leg by Secret Service agents. The man was subdued and taken into custody, and he lived to stand trial in the proper manner. If it's good enough to protect our President, it's good enough for everyone else.

G: "A trained police officer wouldn't just shoot someone unless that gun was pointed at them or someone else. Shooting them is always a last resort."

I'll admit that my feelings on this have been influenced by growing up in Houston during a particularly bad period of "shoot first, ask questions later" by the HPD. Sadly, it's not always a last resort for some people.

Jazzy G said...

You know, another thing to think about Kev is the size of the target. It is a lot easier to hit the torso of a human than say a leg or an arm. Especially when it is in motion.

Unfortunately, even though the torso is a bigger target it contains all of our vital organs. Let's face it really, anytime a person gets shot they could die. There is no way around it. The intruder you mention that got shot in the leg, could have had the bullet hit his femoral (sp?) artery and he could have bled out on scene.

Those individuals that guard the White House are not average police officers. They receive special military training, and are ace marksmen. I'll bet that most if not all of them are of special forces sniper quality (you know.. can kill a fly from 1,000+ yards away).

Anonymous said...

And scaling the fence would have seriously put a damper on him being able to shoot at the same time. I'm sure the primary objective of an officer is not to kill but not to BE Killed! It's a judgement call that has to be made in the blink of an eye. I don't want to live in a "police state" but I totally think we have lost site of who needs protection and who doesn't. The perp has a gun and is doing something illegal; why should he get all the consideration? I'm sure he's not going to think about just "wounding" the officer that is trying to apprehend him for breaking the law!

Oh and sorry Miss G, no offense meant, just an erroneous assumption!

Kev said...

Anon, I don't think that your objective (shoot not to be killed) and mine (shoot not to kill) have to be mutually exclusive; I'm just saying that if you're going to give officers that kind of life-and-death power over the public at large, then they should be held to a higher standard of marksmanship than Joe Sixpack who goes to the gun range for fun on weekends.

And neither you nor G has commented on the main gist of my post, which is that this goes double when kids are involved. That was the main point I've been trying to make.

Jazzy G said...

Well I was trying to make point about the kiddies with guns but I guess I got carried away a bit.

I don't care if you're 10 or 70. If you've got a gun, and are pointing it at someone you obviously aren't trying to stun them. There. Does that cover the kid part of it to your liking?

As to the Joe Sixpack (<-- great name) comment, officers have a required amount of hours of gun training/refreshing every year. They're also required to pass a marksmanship test. I'm not sure the exact frequency of that test, but I'd assume it would be at least once a year. If they fail they're put on desk duty, of course.

There are also those police agility challenges that are a competitive, fun, and social way for them to keep up their skills.

Dang, if this keeps up any longer I'll have to start asking my neighbor about this stuff. She's a retired police officer.

Anonymous ~ No big deal. It's not like I type in a pink frilly font.