Situations in Shades of Gray

I talk about a lot of bad police decisions but most of those situations are black and white. That is to say a police officer obviously abused his or her power or otherwise initiated violence. Sadly not every situation is black and white, many shades of gray exist. Take for instance the story about a police officer who show a 15 year-old kid brandishing a realistic pellet gun:

The parents of an eighth grader who was fatally shot by police inside his South Texas school are demanding to know why officers took lethal action, but police said the boy was brandishing — and refused to drop — what appeared to be a handgun and that the officers acted correctly.

The weapon turned out to be a pellet gun that closely resembled the real thing, police said late Wednesday, several hours after 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez was repeatedly shot in a hallway at Cummings Middle School in Brownsville. No one else was injured.

A picture of the gun can be found at the link and from a distance I can see how an officer would mistake it for a real handgun. Some may say this is a valid case of using violence while others will claim it wasn’t. Others have also questioned the amount of force used by the officer, which I will address in a bit.

So far the story is mostly he-said-she-said. The officer is claiming the kid was pointing the gun at him. Without any way of knowing the weapon was fake that certainly qualifies as immediate threat to life. When I read about these kinds of situations I try to put myself in the shoes of the shooter. What did the cop see? Did the kid point the pellet gun at the officer? Was anything said during the altercation? In this case I have no answers and desire more data. Unfortunately more data isn’t always available and we may find ourselves in these kinds of situations. This reality must be acknowledge by anybody who carries a gun and should be given, at least, a cursory consideration. Most of self-defense is mental preparation and state of mind.

Now let us return to the amount of force that was used:

“Why was so much excess force used on a minor?” the boy’s father, Jaime Gonzalez Sr., asked The Associated Press outside the family’s home Wednesday night. “Three shots. Why not one that would bring him down?”

Let’s consider the use of a firearm. A firearm is a lethal weapon designed to kill, we shouldn’t kid ourselves otherwise. Employing a firearm should only be done when you have decided the situation requires the use of lethal force. Therefore it is safe to say when a firearm is drawn the amount of force necessary to end the situation becomes whatever is necessary.

Any self-defense class and, I’m assuming, police training class will teach you to shoot until the threat has stopped. If the threat stops at the presentation of the firearm you shouldn’t shoot, if it stops after a non-lethal wound you stop, if it stops only after the assailant is dead then that is what you must do. We must also realize that handgun cartridges are anemic and overall poor man stoppers. To overcome this limitation standard procedure is to fire two shots immediately at center mass. If the threat has not ceased after two shots you must take more, possibly even attempting to shoot the attacker in the head. Needless to say the round count is likely to start at two and escalate from there so three shots in this situation shouldn’t be surprising.

In the end the kid may have simply committed suicide by cop. While I’m not willing to pass final judgement in this case I am leaning towards this conclusion unless further data becomes available. Beyond the situation there is something else to take into consideration:

About 20 minutes elapsed between police receiving a call about an armed student and shots being fired, according to police and student accounts. Authorities declined to share what the boy said before he was shot.

Had the kid been in possession of a real weapon and malicious intent he would have had 20 minutes to do whatever he please. Schools, being gun-free zones, don’t allow for lawful self-defense. Teachers and faculty with valid carry permits are not allowed to carry in a elementary or high school so the only solution that really exists for stopping a violence individual is to wait for the police. A lot can happen in 20 minutes and the state prohibits use mere serfs from defending ourselves inside of these gun-free zones. This situation could have been far worse because of government decree.