One recurring theme I hear from supporters of “common sense gun laws” is the theory that police will be unable to tell the good guys from the bad guys and could start shooting at the wrong people.
This particular premise was the rationale used by the Virginia Association of Chief’s of Police in opposition to the bills that would have removed the ability of Virginia Campuses to disarm students and staff. Their Executive Directorfollowing the recent shooting at Virginia Tech:
What if police stormed in and saw a student with a gun? How could they know the student stepped up as an innocent defender, Schrad asked.
Sounds logical. If the Police come upon a scene where gunfire has been reported and they see three or four people with guns, how do they know which one(s) is(are) the bad guy?
At first blush, it seems a very realistic concern and may mitigate the benefits that gun rights advocates extol: namely the ability of law abiding citizens to defend themselves and end an attack.
But here is my question:
When has that EVER happened? Is there a case, any case, in all the States that protect the right of its citizens to bear firearms in public where that has actually occurred? Where an innocent, law abiding citizen engaged in self defense or defense of others was mistakenly shot by the police? Or even shot by another law abiding citizen who mistook them for a bad guy?
There ARE documented cases of mass shootings being stopped by armed citizens; SayUncle posted a pretty good rundown of some of the recent ones last week. Clayton Cramer’s The Civilian Gun Self Defense Blog documents cases of armed self defense against run of the mill violent crime on a daily basis.
Gun Rights proponents say that armed citizens can stop an attack and have well-documented evidence to support that claim. Where is the evidence that the concerns about Police mistakenly shooting innocent gun owners are anything more than hysterical fantasies? Where is the evidence that gun owners might shoot each other in a highly charged situation like that?
The ONLY recent case of which I am aware involving a mistaken identity shooting was the off duty cop in New York who was shot and killed while holding a suspect at gunpoint. I would submit that, in that instance, a MAJOR contributing factor was that the general populace of New York is disarmed. Police in New York City are conditioned to believe that anyone with a gun who is not wearing a blue uniform with a shiny badge (or a Ninja suit with “POLICE” stenciled across the back) is a bad guy. That’s simply not the case in less totalitarian regimes.
In most of the discussions I’ve seen or been involved in that this canard has come up, the pro-rights advocates generally agree that the hypothetical “mistaken identity” issue could happen but is outweighed by the fact that bearing of arms is a RIGHT and by the potential for stopping violent crimes. I would submit that the following challenge would be appropriate in such a discussion:
If mistaken identity shootings are such a threat, SURELY there are documented cases of such taking place. SURELY there is evidence to support that the cost of these types of shootings justify sacrificing the benefits of all of the instances of armed self defense that occur every day. Where is it?