Gun Control Debate Part Three: The police are here to protect us.

Why do you need to own guns when there are police officers that are paid, trained and equipped to protect us?

Firstly, there is no legal duty for law enforcement to protect individuals. In the Supreme Court decision Castle Rock v. Gonzales (www.justice.gov/osg/briefs/2004/3mer/…/2004-0278.mer.ami.pdf) the court ruled that police do not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm. Let me write that one more time. The police DO NOT have any duty to protect you, as an individual, from injury or death.

Does that mean that they will not? No, the vast majority of law enforcement officers are upstanding and decent members of the community who take their role within society very seriously.  I firmly believe that if a police officer is able to respond to a situation where a citizen is in danger, the majority will do everything in their power, up to and including sacrificing their own life, to aid that citizen. However, one cannot keep a police officer on their belt; they can keep a pistol there. One cannot keep a police officer in their home while they sleep, but they can keep a rifle or shotgun in the bedroom.

Unlike many movie depictions of violence, in the real world it happens suddenly, often with very little warning, and typically ends very quickly. Movie fights, where two men square off and pummel each other for minutes, very rarely happen in the real world. Movie fights in which one man prevails against multiple opponents are also very rare, there are simply too many tactical variables. Real world fights are typically over in a matter of seconds, with at least one of the combatants injured. If they involve any manner of weapons, it is possible to sustain debilitating and life threatening injuries very quickly. Therefore, if one is attacked a series of choices must be made very quickly. Producing a cell-phone and attempting to call the police will be very low on the priority list. If one is able to do so, how long will it take the police to get to your location? A few minutes? Certainly. More than ten minutes? Very probably.  Possibly even longer. It is likely that any violence will be over before law enforcement can respond. The police will arrive to investigate the crime scene, interview witnesses, and write reports. They will likely arrest the person who attacked you. The justice system will likely prosecute the perpetrators, they may even convict them. However, that is poor solace to you or your family if you are the victim of a debilitating injury or dead.

If you are not prepared to defend your life and your family are you worth defending? Are you willing to depend on the capricious mercies of someone who is willing to threaten others with injury or death? Please do not take this to mean that I believe we live in some manner of dystopian society where everyone is in grave danger at any time. However, criminals do walk among us. It is often hard for right-thinking citizens to understand that people who are willing to injure, rob, and kill others for trifles are out there, but they are. This is not paranoia or fear but a simple fact of existence for human beings that live amongst other human beings. If you do not believe me, go to your local police department and ask to read the last three months’ worth of police reports covering violent crimes.

Yet another presupposition inherent to this argument is that police are somehow more qualified to protect citizens than citizens are to protect themselves. Are the police trained to use firearms? Yes they are. However, many police officers are not shooters. They carry weapons on a daily basis but often only shoot required departmental qualifications once or twice a year, if that. Funding for additional training and ammunition often comes out of their own pocket and many are just not interested. There are many diverse skills required of a good police officer and shooting is not high on the list. For the average police officer the ability to read and deal with people without resorting to violence is more important than anything else. For the average citizen the decision to arm themselves is a life changing one, especially for those that choose to legally carry a concealed firearm. Many shoot recreationally and often choose to pay for their own training. This is not to say that every armed citizen is an Army Ranger but many are equally proficient in the defensive use of firearms, or more proficient, than your average law enforcement officer.  I do not believe that just because everyone has the right to carry a gun that they should carry a gun.  Carrying a deadly weapon is, and should be, a serious commitment in time and training. People that carry guns should invest the time to become proficient in their use and more importantly understand their personal abilities and limitations.

Another consideration between the armed citizen and the police is variations within tactical training. The armed civilian can limit their anticipated use of a firearm to immediate defense of themselves and those around them, anything else would be unlawful. This means that the armed civilian can focus their tactical training to a very narrow range of scenarios. Given that limited focus of training it becomes easier for the average person to become proficient with their weapon in a given set of scenarios. The police officer must be trained on a much wider variety of potential scenarios and legal use of force. Law enforcement officers must train for immediate defensive usage of a firearm as well as their other issued weapons. They must also be prepared for encounters outside of the purview of the average citizen such as official encounter that become suddenly violent, or the pursuit of suspects known to be dangerous or armed. This means that a police officer’s training time is varied amongst multiple scenarios and the correct responses to each.

                Many people who believe that police officers are there to protect them have never spoken with an actual police officer, other than receiving a traffic ticket. These people cannot see past the uniform, the badge, and the gun belt; the overt symbols of authority and force.  I guarantee that there is a cop bar in your town. Go there, buy a police officer a drink or two and get them to talk about their job. You will learn more about the world you live in and you will show some respect for the people that are doing their best to guard the flock. Keep in mind that certain questions along the vein of; “have you ever killed/shot/tasered/pepper-sprayed-anyone?” are not acceptable queries for someone you just met. That kind of question will likely result in two courses of action. If the police officer is a nice guy he will tell you increasing outlandish stories to see how much you will believe. Since you have already proven yourself a rube by asking a ridiculous question this will likely go on some time. If the officer is more like my cop buddies, he will likely launch into a sarcasm and profanity laced dressing-down that will ruin your self esteem. If you have never been cussed out by a master this may be worth the price of admission but the long-term damage to your feelings may be too much to bear. This idea is not limited to bars.  Find the local police officer at church, at the gym, at the local firing range, anywhere that you can. Be friendly, be polite, try to learn something. Hey, you might even get yourself out of that next traffic ticket…

For a well-written and insightful view of police work, please see chris hernandez’s series “What Police Work is Really Like” here: http://chrishernandezauthor.com/

So we let you keep your measly “assault rifles, “and “assault magazines.” What are you going to do with a few rifles against a government that has trained soldiers and police armed with automatic weapons, grenades, mortars, rockets, missiles, tanks, fighter aircraft, bombers, drones, battleships, aircraft carriers, and nuclear weapons?

I need to state right up front that I am in no way advocating the violent overthrow of the US Government. One of the quicker ways someone to aggravate me is to discuss such a thing lightly. What we have in America is too good and the idea of war within America too terrible for anything but the most sober of contemplation. Anything less is to do a disservice to all of the generations past and present that have spent their lives in the service of keeping America free. It also makes one sound more than a little detached from reality. However, the respectful discussion surrounding the hypothetical of a tyrannical government is central to the express purpose of the Second Amendment.

There is another side of detachment from reality. Over and over again professors, politicians, news people, and entertainment personalities attempt to throw cold water on the idea that Americans could ever again be forced to take up arms to ensure liberty. Their key arguments seem to revolve around ones very much like the one outlined above, “the government is far too powerful and any armed dissent will be crushed.” The other vein of argument is, “we are far too civilized for those war kinds of things.”

I am going to start with the last argument first; the suggestion that Americans are too well-educated, too aspirational, too well fed and entertained to ever again take up arms in rejection of oppression or tyranny. What wonderful times we live in. Days at the end of history where man has given up greed, jealousy, avarice, and the lust for power. When no man will ever again use his position for gain but only for the good of others. Operation Enduring Freedom must have been the war to end all wars. Once we wrap that one up, we can melt all of our weapons down to make playground equipment and put the military to work in the national parks.

                Wait, where have I read about this pinnacle of civilization before? Oh yeah, history! Right before World War II, right after World War I, before the American Civil War kicked off, after the French and Indian War, probably right before the Mayan and Aztec empires almost disappeared; we are not really sure though, they did not leave many records. Certainly before the Roman Empire fell apart; hell, there was probably some ancient Greek saying that war was over forever right after the Peace of Nicias. That is, until Alcibiades kicked it off again. History is replete with hundreds of examples but I trust that you take my point.

                The idea that mankind has developed to the point that we have overcome the nature of man is naked hubris. As long as people exist, there will be those who will do whatever it takes to be in charge, to have authority, to take more power. To ignore this fact is to ignore the nature of man and the institutions made by man. To pretend otherwise only proves that Americans have been so well protected, that as a population we have disengaged from both history and reality. Because of the effectiveness of both our military and police most citizens never have to worry about protecting themselves from danger. Our society has contracted violence to others. As a result, people are free to hold ridiculous opinions such as: “America is too modern and civilized to ever have a government that would have anything but the citizen’s best interest at heart.” They are also free to talk about how much they support the military and police, just don’t let them get close enough so that we can see the blood on their clothes. If you hold these opinions I hope you never speak them out loud around any of my associates. They will not hurt you on principle but they are going to take your lunch money just to show you where you stand.

                To quote a fiction writer:

“Most civilization is based on cowardice. It’s so easy to civilize by teaching cowardice. You water down the standards which would lead to bravery. You restrain the will. You regulate the appetites. You fence in the horizons. You make a law for every movement. You deny the existence of chaos. You teach even the children to breathe slowly. You tame.”
― Frank Herbert

I don’t really believe that Americans have become so “civilized,” that we would not take up arms to right serious wrongs. Personally, I hope that I will never become so civilized that I would hesitate to do justified violence in order to defend myself, my family, my friends, and my country. If America as a totality ever does reach that point of “civilization,” then a culture less civilized will come here, hit us in the head with rocks, and we can go to our deaths knowing that we were more civilized than they. The idea that we as people have become so advanced that tyranny can never again take hold is ludicrous.

The more commonly invoked argument involves the federal or state governments using overwhelming force and weaponry to crush any revolution. This is not a new argument. Prior to the American Revolution many were afraid, rightly so, of the might of the British Empire.  To them Patrick Henry said:

“Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Beside, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of Nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.”

There are a few pre-suppositions inherent to the idea of overwhelming governmental force. The first is that it would be necessary for an armed citizenry to actively revolt against the government in order to act as a brake on tyranny. Second, that if such a revolt did occur, that the majority of government security forces i.e the military and police, would use lethal force against it. Thirdly, that if security forces did elect to oppose a revolt, that they would be willing or able to use the full force of available weaponry against other Americans.

                Firstly, the knowledge that a citizenry is armed poses a problem for any that would dictate to them. History is replete with examples of sovereigns and governments disarming the populace in furtherance of expanding power over that populace. Politicians moderate their decisions with the full knowledge that if the populace is armed there is a final safety valve for freedom. An old saying goes that freedoms exist in the ballot box, the soap box, and the gun box. The gun box is last for good reason. In the United States a citizen has the opportunity to exercise all of their rights, until they cannot. In his dissent to the Silveria v. Locker decision Ninth Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski wrote:

“The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed – where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.”

I cannot state it any more eloquently than that.

 No right thinking person wants to engage in a war on their own soil, against their own government. Only those who have never seen war can even discuss it without feeling a portion of the profound sadness at the actions that such events would necessitate. No loyal citizen US citizen would even consider such a thing unless they had exhausted all other legal and Constitutional remedies in the pursuit of freedom. However, our forefathers adopted the entire Bill of Rights as an acknowledgement that men are not angels and tyranny does exist in the world. The Bill of Rights must be exercised and preserved as a whole. Each freedom defends the others. However, in extremes sometimes violence is the answer; when it is the answer, there is no other. If the state controls the tools of legitimate violence, firearms, then there is no method of redress.

                                Secondly, to imagine that the military and police would actively deploy force against the American populace is a bold assumption. Even if your average armchair anarchist does not understand the horrors of war, the security infrastructure does. Those in service to the country take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. It is their duty to disobey orders that are immoral or un-Constitutional. Many take that oath very seriously and are unlikely to break it.

                There is a worldview that believes the government to be nearly omnipotent. People that hold to this view believe that the military is able to destroy any opponent at will. They believe that the CIA and the NSA are omniscient. Anything that we write on the internet or talk about on the phone is recorded, analyzed, and data-mined. Many times these same people believe that the government will be there to take care of them when the worst happens. What these people fail to understand is that governments, at the molecular level, are made of people. People that make mistakes, people that are bad at their job, people that really want the best for everyone but do not know what that is or how to make it happen. In our example, all of these people are American. Do you really believe that all government employees, or even a majority of government employees are going to engage in repression of the general population? If you do, you are no student of history.

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Finally, assume that the majority of the security infrastructure does believe that it is necessary, for the preservation of the union, to take up arms against their countrymen. Military doctrine would dictate using the minimum force necessary to effect an end to the revolt. It is ineffective to kill or injure non-combatants, especially in your own country. It is not wise to destroy agricultural or urban infrastructure. Reconciliation would be the ultimate goal. All of these points indicate that the use of heavy weapons would be limited to named individuals and limited targets. Without wide usage of heavy weapons, military and police operations would be counter-insurgency similar to what has taken place in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and in Iraq. How did those wars work out for us?

If this sorry state of affairs did come to pass then the security forces of the United States would be dealing with an insurgency that is better armed, and better educated than in any of the three previous examples. History has proven over and over again that American citizens make great soldiers. Check out every American war prior to the institution of the all-volunteer force. Americans naturally take to soldiering. The reason that insurgency was and is the doctrine of choice for our enemies in recent wars is because it is effective. An insurgency negates many of the advantages of high-tech, well trained militaries. All of the weapons and gadgets in the world are worthless if they cannot be directed to the right target. You cannot convince me that the average American is less capable, resourceful, and determined than others that have stymied the full might of the United States.

I don’t want any part of that war, on either side. I don’t think anyone else does either and that is kind of the point.

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4 Responses to “Gun Control Debate Part Three: The police are here to protect us.”

  1. Well said. Thank you.

  2. Some concerns:

    In part 2, you state, “It is easy to miss; even more so under stress…

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