Is it possible to support our police and fully recognize the critical role they play in a civilized society and still be able to question some of the actions taken by some of its members in recent months?
Based on some of the ongoing debate, one would think possibly not; one would think you are either for the police or against the police with no room for any questioning of police actions. Reducing the debate to an “either for or against” does a disservice to the greater discussion of a much more complex issue.
In law enforcement there is a concept referred to as the “continuum of force”. This, basically, means you use as little force as necessary to control a situation and elevate that level of force as the need elevates. In other words, you do not start off with lethal force unless the situation leaves no alternative. Regardless of any legal technicalities, common sense will tell you not to use deadly force unless there is a clear and imminent threat to life.
To that point the video of the slaying of Walter Scott in North Carolina raised the question of whether he could at any point have been legitimately considered a serious threat; could shooting at an individual 8 times and hitting him 5 times in the back as he is running away after being stopped for a traffic violation ever be deemed as justified? Some have said that he should not have run and they would be right. However, should the penalty for fleeing on foot have been a death sentence handed down by neither judge nor jury?
In the Eric Garner case in Staten Island, New York, a similar question arises. Some have said that his ability to state 11 times that he could not breathe is evidence that he could, in actuality, breathe. I ask what about the 12th time? Since there was no 12th time that would indicate that he was no longer able to breathe. How important was it for the six officers to physically subdue him at any cost? Where could anyone that physically out of shape and unarmed be able to go? I suspect, not very far. What imminent threat did he pose? Some suggest that Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri fame was a “thug” because he was video-taped “lifting” some cigars from a convenience store just prior to his confrontation with police. For that we have jails, not cemeteries. Did 12 year old Tamir Rice of Cleveland, Ohio really present a “clear and present danger” while walking with a toy gun? Maybe, since “open carry” only applies to real guns and not toy guns.
The real question we need to address is why have there been such a rash of such incidents in our society? Some may point to race since all of the recent victims to such encounters have been African American. While there may be some basis to factor race into the equation, I think another major contributing factor is the gun culture mentality in America.
Thanks in no small order to the NRA’s successful brainwashing of gun owners across America to instill fear that the government will be knocking on gun owner’s doors to confiscate their guns, we now have a proliferation of guns across America. Sadly, in the aftermath of the horrific devastation at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14 of 2012, gun sales have actually gone up not down, although the actual numbers of households with guns have, indeed, gone down. This serves to indicate the paranoia instilled by gun owners by the NRA. This proliferation of guns in our society and the generally lax gun safety laws has created a real threat and fostered, in my opinion, a shoot first and ask questions later mentality on the part of both citizens and the police creating an intolerable situation. Too many families have been left devastated by the useless loss of life.
Among developed countries, the United States has by far the highest number of guns per every 100 people: 88 as compared to 15 in Australia, 6 in Great Britain and 31 in Canada. According to CNN’s “Gun Violence Project”, over 80 people in the U.S. die from gun violence in every 24 hour period. This year, for the very first time, gun deaths are set to surpass car accidents as the leading cause of death of young people. In many places across America, you have to be 13 years of age to legally purchase a lottery ticket, yet there is no age restriction for purchasing a gun. Gun deaths in our country since Sandy Hook have far surpassed the deaths in Iraq. Looking around the world, gun homicides in Canada a year or so ago was 184, in Japan 56, England and Wales combined 39, New Zealand 5, and in the U.S.A. 12,632.
The irony is that the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution which the NRA points to as the justification for unfettered access to guns – as well as the unfettered profits of the gun manufacturers who are the real constituency of the NRA – had almost nothing to do with individual gun ownership. In drafting the Constitution in 1787, the founding fathers had some level of concern that, as Commander-in-Chief of the army, the position of the presidency, as outlined in Article 2, had the potential of regressing into a monarchy or dictatorship. To address this potential, in crafting the Constitution and its amendments, the founding fathers wanted to avoid a professional standing army in favor of an army comprised of the citizens of the new nation. If you voted, you served; if you served, you voted. It was their belief that an army consisting of citizens would prevent the use of the army to support any abuse of power. Accordingly, the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution was written: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”.
The 2nd Amendment was never designed or intended to provide uncontrolled access to weaponry to the individual. It wasn’t until the Heller Case that the Robert’s Supreme Court expanded the amendment to include gun ownership for the specific purpose of protecting the home. Throughout the Constitution, the term “persons” is used when speaking to individual rights. In the 2nd Amendment, the term “people” is used to indicate a collective intent such as an army, or “Militia”. As a matter of fact, the very use of the term “arms” as in “present arms”, “arms for hostages”, etc. is an indication that the founders were speaking in military terms
It is about time that we use the 2nd Amendment in its proper context and not as a basis for unlimited access to guns by individuals. Maybe, just maybe, if we, as citizens across this nation, begin to take a much more responsible and respectful approach to gun ownership, we might be able to stem the tide of the all too often misuse of deadly force.