Early Friday morning a New York man, Jeffrey Johnson, confronted his former boss at a fashion design company, Steve Ercolino, and shot and killed him on the sidewalk in front of the Empire State Building. Apparently, Johnson had a long history of animosity with his former employer and presumably had grown increasingly resentful of being let go from the business. By currently available accounts, Johnson had no criminal record or documented history of mental illness. Predictably, political and media blame for this incident has been largely laid at guns making it into the “wrong hands,” as if they have a mind and nature of their own, rather than an individual taking independently immoral action (regardless of the means).
But what exactly are the “right hands” in this context? Of significant relevance to this story, and naturally an element that is receiving virtually no widespread media coverage, is that during the resulting police confrontation officers of New York’s Finest wounded nine civilian bystanders on that same sidewalk with their own reactive gunfire. Nine. Where is the anti-gun outcry for the mass victims in this situation, perpetrated by armed individuals with semiautomatic weapons that can deliver multiple rounds downrange in a very short timeframe? I thought one of the basic premises behind some of the anti-gun arguments was that police are the only people trained and competent enough to be “reasonably” armed in society? Clearly this point is up for some debate.
This incident is certainly tragic but it illustrates perfectly that safety is never guaranteed in society even (perhaps, especially) if armed police are immediately present. Even in the most policed city in the country, with among the most austere gun laws on the books, people can perpetrate evil acts with firearms (or other implements of violence). Further, police officers are demonstrably no better or worse than any other human beings, prone to mistakes and potential collateral damage but nonetheless entitled to wield means of self-defense and defense of others commensurate with the means available to the threat that criminals represent. This is the same standing that a truly free, law-abiding individual should enjoy in a just society as well.
The situation becomes particularly ironic when one considers New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s nonsensical comments following the Colorado movie theater shooting last month:
I don’t understand why the police officers across his country don’t stand up collectively and say, “We’re going to go on strike. We’re not going to protect you unless you, the public, through your legislature, do what’s required to keep us safe.”
As any logical person can recognize, being a police officer by its very nature is an inherently unsafe job; were this not the case society would never have identified a need for, and consequently instituted, law enforcement in the first place. Officers are compensated accordingly for that relative degree of inherent danger and can either choose to accept that risk, or not, completely at will in this country; there is no conscription for law enforcement organizations in America. Remuneration for this profession cannot legitimately include the sacrifice of individual rights without converting the police from protectors of those rights to enforcers of tyranny over the individual. Perhaps the populace should go on strike from paying taxes that contribute to police salaries until they properly demonstrate that they will not wound nine innocent civilians while ostensibly trying to protect them.
Of course, Mayor Bloomberg is the very personification of political demagoguery, so this sort of rhetoric is to be expected and his constituency should take note of it if they are collectively capable of even the slightest degree of objective reasoning or critical analysis of multiple-order effects. That said, the appropriate approach to civilized and free society is to dismiss both his and my previous (facetious) perspectives in recognition that punishing the vast majority of law-abiding citizens does not inhibit the criminally determined, nor does placing blind faith in a bureaucracy to protect individuals in all instances exhaustively achieve these purported results.
The simple fact of the matter is that firearms, like automobiles, tools, drugs, and the like, are inanimate objects that can be wielded with positive or negative utility based solely on the choices and actions of the wielder; they are a presence in the world and they are not going away. The only question that remains is who will be legislatively allowed to wield them and for what purposes? Banning them for use by law-abiding citizens effectively endorses their use by the criminally intended and failure to acknowledge this point is incredibly naïve. Society is best served by a trained, professional police force operating within the just limits of the law in tandem with an armed and responsible citizenry that supplements the relatively scarce presence and natural limitations of that police force to counter the significant minority of evil individuals in society with criminal desires. To ignore this practical and ethical reality is the height of irresponsibility and blatantly embraces ignorance for the sake of political gamesmanship. Mayor Bloomberg should know better but it is his constituency that ultimately shoulders the blame for this public display of idiocy.