The manhunt for ex-LAPD officer and quadrupole murder suspect Christopher Dorner resulted in police opening fire on several innocent civilians. This incident echoed the events of the 2012 Empire State Building shooting, in which police fire injured nine civilians during a brief shootout.
Those shoot-outs are not the only instances of police misuse of firearms. Despite this, some gun control advocates suggest that only the police or the military have a justifiable reason to carry specific, high-impact firearms. Is this valid?
Aside from the Constitutional challenge banning all civilian gun use would present, the idea itself is also dangerous. Police more often exercise gun safety and use them for their lawful purposes; however, a few police also sometimes abuse the use of guns, as these shoot-outs illustrate. Similarly, civilians also practice stringent gun safety and use them for their lawful purposes of self-defense far more often than than they use guns for homicide.
A few cases of firearms abuse from either police or civilians do not invalidate the lawful possession of guns for everyone else. What we should recognize is that both police and civilians use guns to protect more often than for harm. Police should not be the only ones allowed to have guns; civilians should too.
The details of police gun abuse can be chilling. During the Dorner manhunt, police twice opened fire on innocent civilians with no warning in Torrance, California. The first incident involved Maggie Carranza, 47, and her mother, 71-year-old Emma Hernandez, who were delivering Los Angeles Times newspapers around 5:15 a.m. Attorney Glen Jonas said "There was no warning. There were no orders. No commands. Just gunshots."
The officers apparently mistook the vehicle for Dorner's. But the vehicle was a different make and model than the truck Dorner was allegedly driving. It was also a different color, and the license plate didn’t match that of the suspect.
Jonas added that "There’s nothing there for you to start shooting people. And even if they had the person in question ... Mr. Dorner ... you still have to give them an opportunity to get out. You can’t just start administering street justice."
Carranza suffered minor injuries to her hand from shattering glass. Hernandez, who was shot in the back, is in ICU at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. In a news conference, Police Chief Charlie Beck said the officers thought the women's royal blue Toyota Tacoma matched the description of Dorner's dark-colored Nissan pickup truck.
"Tragically, we believe this was a case of mistaken identity by the officers," he stated.
Looking at the picture of their truck leaves one quite speechless. It's amazing Carranza and Hernandez survived at all.
Shortly after, also in Torrance, police opened fire on another innocent civilian in yet another truck. This truck also did not match the description of the truck allegedly driven by Dorner. It was a black Honda Ridgeline truck, not a dark colored Nissan truck. Honda Ridgelines have distinctive truck bed-frames different from other trucks. A local CBS News affiliate reports that police asked the driver to turn his vehicle around; while he was in the process of turning his vehicle around, a second police unit rammed the truck with their patrol squad car and opened fire. Police also blamed this on "mistaken identity."
These shoot-outs aren't the only instance of police misuse of guns. In White Plains, New York, police shot and killed a 68-year-old military veteran and 20-year corrections officer after he accidentally rolled onto his medical alert dongle in his home.
Then there was the Empire State Building incident, in which police shot nine innocent civilians trying to stop a man in New York last summer.
Police department SWAT teams often serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced entry into a home, often unannounced. Dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects occur in instances where police mistakenly target the wrong residence.
The lesson from these stories is not that we should disparage the vast majority of law enforcement officers. But even the police don't get it 100% right 100% of the time. Nothing is perfect.
The flipside is that law-abiding citizens use guns to defend themselves every day, just like police do. There are millions of citizen gun owners in the U.S. who own more than 310 million firearms.
FBI Uniform Crime Report data shows citizens annually account for fewer justifiable homicides than law enforcement does. Not all private citizens lawfully use their firearms as the 8,583 unjustifiable homicides per year indicate. However, just like the police don't always get it right (but usually do), citizens use their guns for lawful defensive purpose far more often than they abuse the right. Even the most restrictive estimate for Defensive Gun Use (DGU) per year is 152,000 incidents (the highest estimate is a controversial 2.5 million annual DGU's), far surpassing the less than 9,000 firearm homicides. Other peer-reviewed scholarly research suggest a more accurate tally is 250-370,000 DGU's annually. Sometimes, women alone at home use guns to defend themselves, seen recently in Georgia, Texas, and Oklahoma.
Sometimes both police and civilians abuse their guns; this is a part of human nature. However, there is genuine risk to real people by restricting or taking away lawful use of guns. That needs to be part of our national discussion on gun control. Police should not be the only ones with guns.