Close to twenty years ago, in his seminal essay “A Nation of Cowards” – which was in its day the manifesto of the “Shall Issue” movement – Jeffrey Snyder took on, among many other themes, the job of proving that the law-abiding citizen was eminently trustworthy with firearms. This, he did with a nation that had been intellectually marinaded in the idea that citizens with guns were inherently dangerous for a couple of decades.
Snyder pointed to a bunch of studies and statistics that were a breath of fresh air for Second Amendment supporters for whom the media’s drumbeat of paranoia flunked the sniff test. Being published as it was, at the very beginning of the dawn of the conservative alternative media (Usenet news groups were among the essay’s first conduits), the essay was a revelation to many. We are rapidly approaching the 20th anniversary of this seminal essay – and when we get there, I’ll be commemorating it in style.
Here was one of the stats that was a real eye-opener when this piece came out:
A nationwide study by Kates, the constitutional lawyer and criminologist, found that only 2 percent of civilian shootings involved an innocent person mistakenly identified as a criminal. The “error rate” for the police, however, was 11 percent, over five times as high.
It is simply not possible to square the numbers above and the experience of Florida with the notions that honest, law-abiding gun owners are borderline psychopaths itching for an excuse to shoot someone, vigilantes eager to seek out and summarily execute the lawless, or incompetent fools incapable of determining when it is proper to use lethal force in defense of their lives. Nor upon reflection should these results seem surprising. Rape, robbery, and attempted murder are not typically actions rife with ambiguity or subtlety, requiring special powers of observation and great book-learning to discern. When a man pulls a knife on a woman and says, “You’re coming with me,” her judgment that a crime is being committed is not likely to be in error. There is little chance that she is going to shoot the wrong person. It is the police, because they are rarely at the scene of the crime when it occurs, who are more likely to find themselves in circumstances where guilt and innocence are not so clear-cut, and in which the probability for mistakes is higher.
This was driven home to us last week in New York, at the Empire State Building shooting. The shooter killed one person – his target. The cops were responsible for killing the shooter – and wounding nine bystanders, shooting three and injuring six others with ricocheting debris.
Bob Owens at PJM notes that the NYPD doesn’t issue tasers to beat cops; anyone they can’t take down with clubs, it’s off to the holsters:
Not making Tasers standard issue to officers in a city as densely populated as New York would be almost criminally negligent, and I’d like Mayor Bloomberg to explain why someone so strongly against the civilian ownership of guns hasn’t taken steps to minimize the threat that handgun-armed police pose to the nine million civilians in his city.
If anything, the number of bystanders hit by police gunfire in this incident and others suggests that NYPD officers should be armed with Tasers instead of handguns. It simply isn’t possible to use a handgun in many parts of the city without significant risk of hitting and killing innocent citizens downrange of the target.
It’s not a knock of cops to say that gun controllers who demand we “trust the cops to do the right thing” are ignorant of human nature and the physiology and psychology of stress.