Monday, November 13, 2006

The Price of Stupidity

The city council in New Bedford, MA is pushing the state legislature to ban anything that looks like a gun unless it is made in bright colors and clearly a fake. Pellet guns, BB guns, toys, water pistols, gun-shaped lighters, replica guns – a red plastic tip on the end is no longer enough, the entire fake gun has to be brightly colored so the police know at a glance that it isn’t real.

This is the result of a fatal police shooting some time ago – a New Bedford police officer shot and killed a man who drew a pellet gun. Does anyone but me think that the city council is trying to solve the wrong problem?

A police officer is in a peculiar position. He may interact with dozens or hundreds of citizens every day – traffic stops, routine patrols, investigations of minor crimes – and never have to draw his pistol throughout his entire career. But any one of them, no matter how routine, could instantly turn into a life-and-death situation because he happened upon a hardened criminal, a psychotic, or an armed fool. Is it any wonder that they tend to develop a paranoid streak?

The public needs to keep that in mind. If I get pulled over, I try to get all my documents out before the officer comes up to the window. Once he’s there, I keep my hands visible, move slowly, and avoid grabbing anything that might be mistaken for a firearm. If I had to get out and be frisked, and I had anything in my pockets I thought might make him nervous, I’d say so – especially if it was shaped like a gun. And by the way, if I felt my rights were being violated, I’d still stay as polite and calm as I could manage – the time to complain is later, during the lawsuit, not right away, when a nervous armed man is ready to react to any hint of resistance.

The late idiot in New Bedford not only pulled out something shaped like a gun, it was in fact a weapon, capable of causing permanent damage or even death to the officer. Admittedly, that’s unlikely – you’d have to use a pellet gun at very short range and get a lucky hit in the eye or the temple to do any serious harm. He drew the weapon when threatened with arrest after being found in a crack house. I suspect the mandatory investigation on the officers came back with a verdict of “justified” – and it probably didn’t take very long.

Banning fake guns is not going to fix the problem. In the heat of the moment, almost anything can be mistaken for a gun or other weapon – a pipe, a pen, a pair of scissors. It won’t make the cops any less nervous when somebody hurriedly grabs something out of their pocket. And spotting bright colors won’t make much difference, either – how many criminals will paint their pistols bright orange or yellow to try to get the police to hesitate? And how many officers will get shot that way before the rest of the nation’s police start reacting to those bright colors as evidence of a REAL weapon instead of a fake? One, maybe two?

Let’s not write another law to fix the wrong problem. Instead, let’s allow all those fake guns – but stop sympathizing with idiots who pull them on police officers. Stupidity SHOULD be a capital crime – and pulling a water pistol or a lighter on a cop is stupid.

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