Learning from Erik Scott’s Death
I received quite a lot of reaction from my previous column telling the story of West Point graduate and veteran Erik Scott, who was gunned down in front of a Las Vegas area Costco store in 2010. Much of the response leads me to believe that I did not make my point as clearly as I had hoped. My objective in that column was not so much to bring attention to a tragedy that happened 2 years ago, but to highlight how irrational fear of firearms can cause very dangerous situations for those of us who carry guns for personal protection. Anyone who ever carries a gun needs to be aware of the threat represented by bigots and hoplophobes.
Likewise, anyone who might encounter someone carrying either openly or concealed – which is virtually everyone who ever leaves their home – needs to be aware that there are lawfully armed citizens all around. With 49 of the 50 states having some provision for lawful concealed carry, and over 40 states having provisions for lawful open carry, there are now several million people in this country who might be lawfully carrying a gun on any given day – not to mention the thousands of off-duty and plainclothes police. That means the odds of your seeing an accidentally exposed concealed firearm, or someone carrying openly, are pretty high in most states.
The most important thing for everyone to remember is that, unless the person you see carrying the gun is also wearing a mask, it is highly unlikely that a gun you spot is being carried illegally. That being the case, unless the person carrying the gun appears to be preparing for, or is in the act of committing a crime, there is no reason to be concerned or contact the police. Those in law enforcement, particularly dispatchers who take those excited calls about “a man with a gun,” should be especially aware of this and know to ask key questions about what the man (or woman) is actually doing, and determine if they are dealing with a serious threat or just an excited hoplophobe.
Many years ago I was the subject of one of those calls. I had stopped in at a convenience store to buy something to drink on my way to a friend’s house. At the time I worked in a gun store in Arizona and carried openly most of the time. Apparently someone in the store or in the parking lot saw the gun in my waistband and went straight to a payphone (for younger readers a payphone was how we made telephone calls when we were away from home back in the olden days). Luckily my transaction was quick and the police weren’t, so I was long gone before they arrived. A few hours later I stopped in the store again before heading home and the girl at the counter told me what had happened. She said the police had scared her half to death when they came charging in – guns in hand – looking for the armed robber. It took her only a moment to recall the skinny kid with the big .45 on his hip, and put the officers’ concerns to rest.
The officers at the door of Costco on July 10, 2010, were geared up in anticipation of danger. They were under the belief that a jacked-up dope fiend was going berserk in Costco, and they were going to have to go in and get him. When the crowd came pouring out of the store as employees began an ill-timed evacuation the officers were faced with the additional concern that the “crazy guy with the gun” might slip right by them or come up on them with no warning – which he did – even though he wasn’t acting crazy, and the gun was safely tucked in its holster. Suddenly there was a Costco employee pointing at a man within arm’s reach of at least one of the officers, and declaring “That’s him!”
Officer William Mosher obviously felt compelled to take immediate action. He confronted the man, ordering him to show his hands and to get on the ground. Officer Mosher’s mind was probably in overdrive at that point causing tunnel vision and time distortion – shifting the world into slow-motion for him. It is very likely that Officer Mosher saw and heard only Erik Scott, and that to him the encounter seemed to take several seconds, much longer than the actual two seconds that ticked off between Mosher’s first shouted order and his last violent shot. Under these circumstances it probably seemed that Scott was not responding to orders and was perhaps moving in a threatening way. The other two officers present were probably similarly amped-up and fired simply because Mosher did.
The point I am trying to make with the story is not whether the officers’ actions were justified or not, or whether Erik Scott should have done something differently to avoid the confrontation, but rather the way that fear, prejudice, and ignorance conspired to create a situation that resulted in Erik Scott’s death that day. The saga of Erik Scott is not over. New information continues to trickle into the light and there is still a possibility of litigation in the case, but for most of us, more important than the final resolution in Erik’s death, is what we — carriers and non-carriers alike — can learn from it.
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