first published on July 21, 2016 by Matt Silvey
As a pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment cop, I often find myself viewed as a frenemy by the very people whose side I am on in this ongoing fight to defend our constitutionally guaranteed rights. This was never more readily apparent than during a conversation I was involved in a few days ago.
People who are ardent supporters of our rights are often, and rightfully so, bordering on paranoid about government conspiracies to take away our guns. It does not take a fiction writer’s imagination to envision the government coming after gun owners. Heck, nearly every speech the President of the US has given in recent months has mentioned gun control in one fashion or another. While I find myself in agreement with those concerns, where a startling number of gun rights supporters and I differ is on the role of law enforcement.
I often see folks claiming that law enforcement is “slaughtering unarmed people” all the time. They try to make it seem like some sort of epidemic, and allude to some giant conspiracy, or that America has become a “police state.” Some point to the number of people reportedly killed by police, tracked by a website, as if it is some sort of definitive proof that cops are just randomly murdering people all over the place. The truth is, that website does not differentiate between justified and unjustified shootings, only a raw total. Just like we do when we argue against the lack of logic in gun control laws, we also must examine the whole picture when talking about people killed by cops.
First, either you believe that a person is both legally and morally justified in using deadly force to defend themself or another, or you don’t. If you are a fan of Full30, or a defender of the Second Amendment, then you likely believe that is true. If you believe that, then you also believe that ALL persons have that right, no matter what their gender, skin color or profession is, or do you? Do I suddenly lose the right to self-defense when I put my uniform on? If you think I do, just stop reading here because you are clearly unable to separate logic from emotion.
If you are still reading, I will assume you are in agreement thus far so let us take a look at the next part of that statement, the good old “unarmed” suspect. As someone who is constantly fighting against the push for “assault weapon” bans, I find this part particularly confusing. Do we not always point to the FBI statistics on how few people are killed by rifles as compared to other means of death? A quick look at those very statistics shows that on average, more than twice as many people are murdered every year with bare hands as opposed to rifles. If that argument is valid to defend the ownership of modern sporting rifles, why is it suddenly invalid when a cop shoots an “unarmed” suspect? I hate to break it to you, but “unarmed” does not remotely mean not dangerous.
So, now that we have gotten past the fact that cops are allowed to protect themselves or others with deadly force, just like everyone else is, and we’ve done away with the myth that a person without a weapon is somehow magically not dangerous, the next thing to look at is the context in which the cops encountered all of those people they shot. Were those people just walking down the street doing nothing at all, or were they in the act of committing some crime, even a minor one? Now, we can argue the need for a great number of laws, and likely you and I will agree on a majority of them. I personally think there are far too many laws on the books, and I detest laws that are designed to protect someone from their own stupidity (seat belt & helmet laws jump to mind). But that said, the cops did not write those laws, politicians did. Cops are sadly tasked with enforcing them, whether we like them or not. Getting beyond whether or not the law is a good law, were the people contacted in violation of one of them or not? Since the website (intentionally) does NOT track that, and the only way to find out for sure is to follow every single link and read the related story, and I have a pretty good idea what the answer is going to be, I’m just going to hazard a guess that upwards of 95% of those contacts were for a legal reason (honestly, I would guess closer to 99%). If you want to take the time and effort to verify those, more power to you. Let me know what you find.
Assuming that 95% of those contacts were legal, even if they were only for cracked tail light, no front license plate, tinted windows, stereo too loud, jaywalking, selling CD’s, etc, if your next step is to claim that initial reason (known as probable cause) for the contact is why the person was killed, then you are defeating yet another one of the arguments we all use in the fight for gun rights. The whole “cops killed him for jaywalking” is the logical equivalent to “the homeowner shot that guy for knocking on the front door of their home.” You see, in my 20 years as a cop, experience tells me that a home invasion suspect often times knocks on the front door before forcing their way into the home. If you are willing to view any police shooting that happens as the result of a contact that evolved from a relatively minor reason as unjustified, then you are also saying that all self-defense shootings that occur as a result of an encounter that started in a relatively neutral manner, but rapidly turned to something else, is also unjustified. Claiming someone was killed over something minor is an outright lie.
Some often go as far as claiming America has become a “police state.” To those of us familiar with history, this statement is a ridiculous over exaggeration and displays a lack (or intentional ignorance) of what a police state really is. There have been a number of them throughout the years, and if these people are seriously trying to suggest that America is now like what WWII Germany or East Berlin during the cold war were like, they are delusional. The following is an excellent definition of what constitutes a Police State and the website from which it came goes into far more depth:
A police state is a nation whose rulers maintain order and obedience by coercion, terror, torture, propagandizing, brainwashing, mass surveillance, or any combination of these methods. A police state is inherently repressive and undemocratic. In its repressive aspects, a police state suppresses political dissent, curtails or eliminates civil liberties, and sometimes even tries to wipe out disagreeable ideas, feelings, memories, or impulses from the conscious minds of individuals. In its legal aspects, a police state is similar to martial law or the law imposed on a country by a state when civil authority has broken down. The two most infamous police states in world history—Nazi Germany under Adolph Hitler (1933-1945) and the former Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin (1929-1953)—are considered to be the prototypical police states.
While I agree that mass surveillance has sadly become a reality, and is indeed worthy of concern, none of the rest of this is remotely the case. If we truly were a police state, protests would not be happening, yet here in America, not only do they happen, but the police are tasked with ensuring the safety of the very people protesting against them. The argument that America has become a police state lacks any substance.
Now, if you want to talk about cases of unjustified uses of force, I will be the first to admit that there are indeed some instances of that. Heck, as I said before, I have written about them many times. BUT an unjustified use of force is not some indication that there is a problem with the system, it is an indication that one of two things took place, 1) a cop, who is only human, made a mistake or 2) a person who should not be a cop somehow slipped through the cracks and got missed, but now we have an opportunity to fix that. Try as we might, there are people who do not belong in this job who manage to sneak their way in. That is inevitable. There are countless processes in place to prevent that, but nothing is foolproof. All we can do is address the issue when we become aware of it.
Finally, I am not remotely suggesting that everyone should like the cops. While it would make this whole thing (you know, both of us fighting for the same thing) easier if you did, but I don’t expect that. However, can we at least be honest and just say you don’t like cops for some sort of emotional or personal reason, rather than using arguments that undermine the very evidence we both use to argue against more gun control laws. I’m not the only pro-gun cop out there, in fact most recent surveys show that both working line staff and even administrators across the country overwhelmingly support private citizen’s gun rights. I’m not sure who is more the frenemy, all us horrible, evil cops or the people who run around proclaiming how evil the cops are.