Because a few weeks have passed since the Uvalde, Texas school massacre, one might think that the dust has settled and whatever policy measures are needed have been implemented or ignored. End of story? No. Barely the beginning. We have not even begun to address the deep chasm in our understanding of law enforcement, community, and gun violence.
Americans want heroes and villains, nothing more, nothing less. The outrage, anger, and sadness expressed in response to the chaos and failures to perform by the roughly 400 law enforcement officers who showed up at the Uvalde, Texas school shooting, validates that assessment. Numerous officers, tons of military equipment, and some active-shooter training, yielded no heroes. In the chaos of that day, the officers exposed far more than their personal cowardice. They demonstrated the futility of the American Culture of problem solving: Attack the symptom, not the problem. Rely on imaginary heroes and loads of technology, not societal realism.
A Shooter with Guns Kills People whether he is a Clumsy Dolt or a Professional Assassin.
Too many people were surprised to learn that the Uvalde shooter had never fired a gun before he massacred nineteen schoolchildren and two teachers. Really, it is not rocket science. Destroying is always easier than creating. ‘Point and shoot’ is not a complicated instruction requiring little or no training—although proper gun handling does take considerable training, commitment, and self-discipline. It is the will to kill that is most important to the ‘success’ of a civilian massacre.
And, the more powerful the weapon, the easier it is to kill large numbers of people quickly whether you are a ‘good shot’ at the range or has never fired a weapon of war. When highly trained team of Special Forces operators enter a targeted room or building, they literally ‘spray’ the area with high-impact rounds from automatic machine pistols or similar weapons until no sentient being in that space remains alive. The purpose of such weapons is to demolish human bodies and they do.
The idea that an AR-15 type assault weapon is a legitimate tool for killing ‘varmints’ in the countryside, is patently absurd, unless your goal is to waste very expensive ammunition on a little critter that anyone with a .22 rifle and moderate skill could easily kill with one shot. Assault rifles are weapons of war, designed to obliterate as much of the body of targeted beings as possible, and as many as possible as quickly as possible. That is why so many of the victims at Ross Elementary School were unidentifiable except by their DNA and sometimes their clothing.
So, don’t give me that Second Amendment crap about your inalienable right to bear arms. Our national gun violence has nothing to do with the right of citizens to own guns or to rebel against a tyrannical bureaucracy. Moreover, the clause about the maintenance of “a well regulated militia” was intended by those saintly ‘founding fathers’ as a compromise that would allow southern plantation owners to legally form gangs to hunt down and kill runaway slaves.
The only effective national, state, or local weapons policy would require deep background checks, rigorous training (not merely a few hours of lecture and some target practice on a Saturday afternoon as some concealed-carry laws require). Then, if they qualify, both the owner and the gun would be licensed. (An AR15 would not qualify, since it has no purpose for civilians.)
Follow-up training/evaluation would be required every two years, just as private pilots are required to demonstrate their skills and judgement to keep their pilot’s license current. But that, of course, would involve the exercise of significant responsibility on the part of gun enthusiasts and authorities alike, as well as overcoming the heavy lobbying/bribery of the gun manufacturers and their shills (eg. the NRA).
‘Defensible Space’ and ‘Good Guys with Guns’ are Myths
The one clear outcome of the Uvalde law enforcement debacle is that a poorly trained unmotivated cop may be just as dangerous or even worse than a bad cop. A bad cop might have breached that classroom door just because it was an opportunity to shoot someone. A Fake Cop is far too risk averse.
We can condemn the cowardice of the 369 or whatever that number approaching 400 officers was, who, lacking a specific command to attack the ‘active shooter,’ cowered down the hallway for about 80 minutes, ignoring their active-shooter training and protocols. Any combat veteran knows that once an action commences, the situation is best described as chaos, whatever the battle plan had been. It never ends there. In Uvalde, the battle was on, but they were not engaged.
The optimal plan of action to stop an ‘active shooter’ in a civilian setting is well known and many officers, including those at Uvalde, have trained in those procedures. But without the will, commitment, and determination, the training is nothing. Those officers offered nothing beyond running around with their equipment preparing for what they refused to do—take immediate action against the killer. A well-trained committed officer needs no command for that.
But in typical American social problem ‘solving’ fashion, too many are now discussing how to assure that the barn door should be carefully closed, after the horse disappeared, instead of considering the causes and prevention of horse thievery.
Almost no space is defensible, as Osama Bin Laden apparently discovered. (A former Navy Seal/Blackwater operator of significant experience once told me that the word around Afghanistan was that Bin Laden had been killed years before the spectacular raid after which his[?] body was unceremoniously dumped in the Indian Ocean.) In any case, ‘hardening’ schools and adding armed officers (usually retired and not all that gung ho) might slow a committed mad shooter. However, that is treating the symptom (with weak unreliable medicine) rather than going after the cause. The metaphor of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the leak in the dyke applies here.
The Great Law Enforcement Illusion
Never mind the fact that most law enforcement is necessarily after-the-fact of a crime. That cannot be avoided simply because police officers cannot be everywhere at once. Sure, we do know that some kinds of crime occur more in some areas than in others. But most crime is beyond immediate prediction and cannot be prevented by police, no matter how good they are. Police can produce some significant measures of prevention, but they are limited. That, however, is not the core problem of law enforcement. And poor law enforcement is not the cause of mass shootings—shooters with guns are.
Americans have a John Wayne complex. Our image of law enforcement involves a lone hero, a sheriff, a beat cop, an unorthodox detective, etc. None of these reflects reality well. The reality of policing in America varies but the variations reflect a common theme. Police are an interest group; police unions and police administrators work in the interests of their members as well as in the interests of public safety. Both may vary considerably. The relations of police and communities are diverse, ambiguous, confusing, and sometimes corrupt.
I have known a number of fine police officers, highly committed to their profession and dedicated to protecting and serving the public. But as the otherwise whitewashed Texas House Special Committee report on the Uvalde failure pointed out, a fundamental system failure occurred. (That, btw, cannot excuse their “we can never know” BS.) The commission lied when they claimed that what happened was beyond our ability to imagine.
A recent study showed how the LAPD community-policing program actually manipulated the citizens of Lakeside to do the bidding of senior officers so that the core law-enforcement concerns of citizens were not adequately addressed. The Albuquerque Police Department had become so violent and lawless that the U.S. Justice Department took it over and assigned an overseer to implement reforms, which turned out to be marginal at best. This must be considered, in the context of a town where citizen violence was also quite frequent and sometimes unspeakably brutal (eg., the 10-year old Michele Martin rape-murder-dismemberment case). One could recite any number of cases where police have gone rogue, but there is always a context.
None of these things happens in police departments where a culture of commitment to protect and serve the public are embedded in the character of the officers. However, in too many communities, cities, counties, and states, the politics of law enforcement prevent the necessary from becoming the norm. Highly selective recruitment, far more rigorous training, esprit de corps focused on service rather than an invisible blue line of self-protection over all other values, and much higher pay based on much higher performance standards are necessary to erase the incredible darkness of being a fake cop.