Good Guys Down
By Jeff Knox
November saw two highly publicized tragedies where police officers responding to the scenes of shootings, shot and killed the wrong man. In both cases, the victims were legally armed. In both cases, the victims were black, as were the perpetrators of the original shootings. Of course, the media has chosen to focus primarily on the race issue, reinforcing the idea that blacks are disproportionately victims in wrongful police shootings, and stoking the flames of outrage within the black community.
Not only does the focus on race, drive a wedge between blacks and whites, and between police and the community, it also diverts attention from the real reasons for these types of tragedies, and potential solutions.
Those of us who choose to be armed, must have a solid grasp on the real-world risks and consequences of wielding deadly force. While a gun can save lives, carrying and using one always comes with complications. Our society specifically tasks police with use of force to stop criminal violence and restrain law-breakers, and even though their authority is derived directly from “we the people,” our social structure has largely ceded the individual authority of the people, into the hands of the police, reserving only a very narrow slice for individual citizens. That authority has not always been ceded evenly, either. There are gaps and overlaps leading to conflicts between a citizen’s right to bear arms and act on his own behalf, and the duties and limits of police authority. Police also enjoy certain immunities and protections – both legally, and as a matter of generally accepted terms within our social contract.
Since it is the job of police to go into harm’s way, deal with bad guys, and use force up to and including deadly force, in the execution of their job, society generally gives them the benefit of the doubt when things get sketchy.
Armed citizens don’t get those benefits and presumptions, regardless of our level of training or experience. We also don’t usually have the benefit of a uniform or badge to readily identify us as the good guy during a hectic event. Our first challenge is surviving the initial threat, but then we have to be sure to survive the arrival of those coming to save us from the threat. Afterwards we run through the legal gauntlet of criminal and civil actions trying to blame us for defending ourselves – not to mention the emotional trauma that comes from the whole mess – without the benefit of a police union representative and “paid administrative leave.”
In both of the recent instances, the legal gun owners were put in difficult situations that made it virtually impossible for them to do much of anything differently. In the first tragedy, the good guy was working security at a bar when a group of men who had been kicked out earlier returned. One of them opened fire on patrons in the bar. The security worker tackled the gunman (or one of his accomplices) and had his gun in his hand when the police rushed in. Officers apparently thought the security guy was the assailant, about to execute a patron on the floor, and they fired, killing the good guy.
I put little credence in the claims of some of the patrons that they yelled at police that the man was bar security. As the situation was described by those same patrons, there didn’t seem to be time for them to recognize the danger to the security guard from the police before the shots were fired. Whether the security guard had time to safely holster before police arrived – or shouldn’t have drawn the gun at all – is unknown. Police seemed to have arrived very quickly, and in this case, as with the next story, that rapid response did not work to the benefit of the armed citizen.
In the second incident, a young man was at a local shopping mall with a friend on Thanksgiving evening. The friend got into a physical altercation with another man in the mall, and that man pulled a gun and started shooting. The good guy drew his sidearm, but apparently didn’t fire. Police patrolling the mall arrived at that moment, and saw a man with a gun in his hand and another man bleeding on the ground. They fired, and the innocent gun owner was killed.
So far, police have withheld release of any body-cam or security camera footage from either of these shootings, and descriptions of events from witnesses are sketchy at best, so it’s difficult to determine with any confidence exactly what happened or what could have been done differently – by the armed civilians or by the police. It is sad and frustrating that tragedies like this happen, and even sadder that people will exploit them for political purposes – some claiming that police are too anxious to open fire on black men, and others claiming that these cases prove that armed citizens just complicate already bad situations.
In truth, white people are wrongfully killed by police too, as in Colorado when a homeowner was shot after killing a home invader who was attacking his grandson. In these particular circumstances, it’s unlikely that skin color played any role at all. While tragic mistakes happen, they are rare, and armed citizens successfully use firearms to defend themselves or others, every day in this country, without being shot by police.
If the officers involved in these deaths were overly aggressive or “trigger-happy,” they should be punished, but based solely on initial reports, it appears that in these cases, the only blame lies with the original perpetrators who started the shooting, and they should be charged with felony murder for the loss of these innocent lives.