Friday, May 13, 2005

An Open Letter

Dear Neighbors in Anderson:

When I first heard about an Anderson resource officer's gun accidentally discharging from his holster while he was at school and injuring some of the students I was shocked -- but not for the reasons you might suspect. It seems every month or so you hear about another school shooting, but this one was different to say the least. The first news report I heard about this matter stated that the officer's weapon accidentally discharged while in his holster and that some students were injured. This account implied that the officer was walking along his merry way with his gun holstered and then all of a sudden -- bang! Of course upon engaging my reason I realized that there had to be more to this story. As much as the media would like to have us believe otherwise, firearms are not just sitting around waiting for a potentially dangerous situation in which to discharge themselves. In fact, I challenge anybody to cite even one example of a firearm discharging itself while holstered or otherwise immobilized. But I digress.

As the story unfolded and I discovered the details I was again surprised. What was this resource officer thinking? Was he thinking? I can make a good guess to the answer of the second question. Don't get me wrong, I can certainly understand that we all face moments of carelessness. But I am a law enforcement officer, too; and I simply cannot fathom how any officer could make such a series of gross errors in judgment. As a law enforcement officer I am regularly drilled in weapon retention. In short this means using any means possible including lethal force to keep your firearm either in your holster or in your hand. Like all training it gets to be a reflex. If you are going for my gun, prepare to enjoy the last few seconds of your consciousness if you are lucky or of your life if you are not. All this to say that it is a fundamental rule of law enforcement not to take any chances regarding who is in possession of your firearm.

Of course if the news accounts are accurate, the officer was not reacting to someone trying to steal his weapon but rather daring students to try -- error number one. Is this really a good idea? Would it really be prudent to ask, "Hey, little girl! You wanna reach in my holster and shoot off my gun?"

It sounds like a statement from the Michael Jackson trial. However, I understand that the officer was attempting to demonstrate his holster's ability to retain his firearm. All I can say there is thank God it did retain the firearm because things could have turned out much differently.

OK. For the sake of argument, let's say you have good reason to demonstrate your holster's ability to retain your weapon. Another fundamental rule of law enforcement is public safety particularly when firearms are involved. The first action should be to unload your gun. After all, are you prepared to potentially risk your life and the lives of all the students and teachers in the vicinity relying solely on your holster's ability to retain your weapon? I don't know about you, but I do not trust engineers quite that much. But whether it was another lapse in judgment or a purposeful decision on the officer's part, he decided to leave his firearm loaded -- error number two.

Error number three was perhaps the most forgivable: the officer failed to expect the unexpected. In law enforcement you have to think outside the box and consider all the angles. And even though it is certainly understandable that the officer did not foresee that at least one of the students' hands was small enough to fit inside his holster with his gun -- well, as the saying goes, "Three strikes and you're out!"

I do not want to tar and feather this particular officer although in my opinion I believe he bears sole responsibility for this accidental discharge. And, fortunately, no one was seriously injured or killed. However, this incident does reveal a bit of a problem in law enforcement in particular and in society in general: our over-reliance on technology. Don't get me wrong: technology is a great asset, but it cannot replace our own common sense and responsibility. You see it everywhere from "wardrobe malfunctions" to frivolous lawsuits against manufacturers of everything from automobiles to firearms. I am sure there are already lawyers lining up to sue the holster or gun manufacturer or both, but in the end the ultimate responsibility for retaining the weapon lies with the officer.

Before we start casting stones at this officer, let us consider our responsibilities. Who's responsibility is it to educate and protect our children? The fact that our public education system requires the presence of resource (police) officers should be more than enough evidence for anybody to see that we are heading down the wrong path and have been for many years. Parents have long since left off parenting to the "professionals" appointed by our government. We complain about how bad things have become, but what do we do? In the long run perhaps improvements can be made at the societal level, but that may never happen and will certainly not happen soon enough to affect the children in our care. In the short run we can perhaps make the most effective change of all, get involved with our families on a daily basis. Children need parents more now than ever. And on a lighter note, I would like to thank this particular officer for giving me more material for my future book entitled It Takes a Special Kind of Stupid.

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