Friday, October 23, 2015

Two good guys with Guns (the laws of unintended consequence)

In Palm Beach, two men, both lawfully armed, come across one another.  Neither is obviously law enforcement, one draws his weapon in fear because the second man came out of the shadows and as a conditioned reaction to being confronted by a stranger on a dark night, the other reaches for his in reaction to the first man drawing his weapon.  The first shoots the second, the second man dies.  The first man's name was Nouman Raja, the second man, the man who died, was Corey Jones.  Mr. Jones' family is understandably upset, understandably outraged (even if it may be they ultimately shouldn't be, it's normal).  It happened to turn out Mr. Raja is a police officer.  The family claims Officer Raja never showed his badge, never identified himself as a police officer.

Look, it seems entirely possible neither man did anything wrong, and certainly not if we it were to have instead be the case that neither was a police officer.  In that case, neither man has to identify himself, he just has to be in fear for his life (under Florida law).

Now, it just so happens one was, and it seems may not have identified himself, thus averting a problem.  If so, that's horrible, and maybe even criminal (for a law enforcement officer), but it points out that police are trained, do behave differently, to try to avoid exactly this kind of event.  Civilians have no such requirements. You don't have to say, "Hands Up!, Police!"  You (he were Mr. Raja a civilian), simply had to be in fear, and once Mr. Jones started reaching for his gun, was entirely justified (under law) in shooting.  Mr. Jones, in fearing for his life with a stranger pointing a gun at him, was entirely within his right to reach for his own weapon and in fact according to the gun nuts, that's what he should do.  They claim they'd stop "robbers/bad guys" by being armed, being ready to "throw down" even though, just like in this case, trying to do so put their lives in great danger. So, under law, and in the eyes of the pro-gun crowd, this kind of confrontation turning deadly, was right, not just likely.

There may not have been time either for this officer to identify himself, this may all have transpired too quickly.  That's under investigation.  What isn't under investigation is that this is exactly the problem with people all over walking around armed.  What isn't under investigation is that having people who don't have to identify themselves, who are armed, confronting each other, whether in a movie theatre, on a bridge, in a classroom, wherever, draw a weapon, may elicit this exact kind of response by others who are also armed.  It may elicit needless shootings by people not trained (an more importantly not practiced) to clear their firing background, not trained/practiced (at) to establish the threat, not trained to seek to de-escalate and only use deadly force as the very last possible resort.  Under law, they merely have to feel in mortal peril, then they may draw a weapon, and even if the reason they feel in peril is because someone (in their classroom) has drawn a weapon in response to the real assailant, and they shoot that other person who was just trying to stop the real assailant, no matter, that's permitted under the law.  So, accidental killings are ok (apparently, at least under the law).  Apparently having accidental shootings is just the unfortunately collateral damage of making sure people walk around armed without any real constraints on the employment of those firearms other than feeling threatened.  Apparently the hundreds of accidental shootings each year in this country are better, are "ok" or at least, an acceptable cost, so that a handful of people a year (less than 200 non-law enforcement shootings by most reliable estimates) can be "saved" even though statistics say yelling at an armed assailant is more successful as a self-defense approach than being armed.

So, we are going to see, and have seen, needless deaths as untrained people draw and fire, fire in fear.  We are going to see unintentional killings, needless killings.  Fear is a strong motivator, it motivates people to carry guns, and it motivates those people, people who seem more susceptible to fear, to draw and use those weapons when they are afraid.  We are going to see it because they are relatively untrained, we are going to see it because too many walk around armed, because they are excessively afraid.  You can say "well they just need (better) training", but what we know from experience with police, is that training normally falls by the wayside in stress unless repeatedly drilled into the person, precisely because their fear overrules their reasoning.  Even with repeated training, the process still fails police.  And more, police must declare themselves, civilians don't have to do so, so no matter the level of training, two "ships in the night" may very well have a random, tragic encounter, where neither is held accountable, yet one (or both) dies.  That's what we've created, that's what the lobbying by the NRA has helped to create, a lawless, fearful vigilantism.

And so we get confrontations which turn into tragedy.  Rather than two people yelling at each other, one is dead, the other under a cloud and having to live with guilt the rest of his life for having needlessly shot "a good guy with a gun."

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