Guns and police, and still more guns

I spent a large part of the day talking about guns, thinking about police and guns, and handling guns. That’s what this post is about.

Today was a gun day. It began when a friend who strongly supports the Second Amendment nevertheless wondered why police shoot people who end up proving to be unarmed. Why can’t they stop doing that, she asked.

I explained to my friend that police have milliseconds in which to determine whether a person is a threat to them. The fact that the person who was aiming something at them is later shown to have been pointing a pen or cell phone gets discussed a lot in Monday morning quarterbacking. In the real world, though, police can’t stand there debating what the guy (it’s usually a guy) is holding in his hands. All they can do is to act, and act fast. Sometimes they act wrong. Here are a few shoot/don’t shoot videos in practice settings:

When people who wish blacks well tell them to be compliant in the face of police actions, that’s not because they are telling blacks to demean themselves or be slaves to white people’s orders. It’s because the human brain cannot determine in two seconds whether someone is a predator coming at them or just a fool moving around. Lacking that analytical ability, unless a cop is suicidal, his brain is going to say “predator” and he will shoot.

What happened in Atlanta the other day is classic. If you watch the Rayshard Brooks videos, you see that he got into a violent altercation with the police and grabbed for their weapons. He succeeded in grabbing something that later proved to be a taser, then ran away, only to stop and aim the taser at them:

All that the police lizard brains knew, though, was that Brooks was violent, that he had something in his hand (a weapon), and that he was planning on discharging it at them. At that moment, Officer Garrett Rolfe’s survival instincts kicked — for him, it was kill or be killed, not black or white. Now, he’s probably going to be charged with murder.

Police all around America are watching this. Each officer knows that s/he may end up in situations with people who are non-compliant or stupid. The officer will then have to make a millisecond judgment call that could save him or her from a killer or see his or her life destroyed in a hostile legal system. If the presumption is always going to be that a black man, if shot, was innocent and the police officer was guilty, police will make two sensible choices: They will quit the department immediately or continue to collect the paycheck while failing to do any meaningful policing. That does not bode well for America. Vigilante justice will step in and vigilantes don’t have police training. They’ll always shoot first.

This does not mean that I am hostile to better police training. First, there’s always room for improvement. Second, training, coupled with making it easier to fire bad policemen, should help weed out people who shouldn’t be on the force. Third, the one thing that the protesters have right is that we need better systems for handling the mentally ill. Police are not, and should not be, mental health therapists.

My friend also asked me why police don’t do what Biden suggested and aim for the legs. That was an easy one. I had a friend in law school who was a former police officer. I asked him the same question (not challenging him but genuinely curious) and he gave me a very simple answer: Police are not sharpshooters and, in moments of stress, it’s almost impossible to aim. For that reason, once you’ve determined that there’s a threat, you must aim for body mass because it’s the only certain way to end the threat.