OSD 123: “Person with a gun” doesn’t mean what it used to

The slow-motion paradigm shift in a world of ubiquitous concealed carry.

A gun carrier was shot dead by police this week in a suburb of Denver, after intervening to stop a man who’d just ambushed and killed a police officer. The timeline went as follows:

12:49 p.m.: The suspect’s brother called asking for a welfare check because his brother was going to “do something crazy.”

1:08 p.m.: Officer Gordon Beesley and another Arvada officer attempted to contact the suspect, identified as Ronald Troyke, at his residence, to check his welfare but were unable to make contact with him, so they cleared from the call at 1:18 p.m.

1:17 p.m.: Dispatch received a call for a suspicious person in the Olde Town Square.

1:30 p.m.: Beesley was dispatched to the suspicious person call, arriving at the Olde Town Square at 1:31 p.m.

1:31 p.m.: Beesley parked on Webster Street and walked through an alley toward the Olde Town Square. As he walked westbound, Troyke pulled into the area in a truck and parked behind him. The suspect got out of his truck with a 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun, ran after Beesley and yelled at him. Beesley stopped, turned and immediately was shot twice by the suspect. Beesley did not reach for his gun and took no defensive action. He turned in response to the suspect who then shot and killed him. Troyke then shot out the windows of patrol cars parked in the area and into the air. He ran back to his truck and retrieved an AR-15 and then ran back towards the Olde Town Square with the long gun, where he was confronted by [Johnny] Hurley. Hurley then shot the suspect with a handgun.A responding Arvada police officer then encountered Hurley, who was holding the suspect’s AR-15. The officer shot him.

The first thing to say is just wow, this is all-around horrible.

The second thing to say is that police shootings of people using guns in self-defense are (fortunately) extremely rare. But they do happen. Let’s talk about that.

A few examples:

  • Ryan Whitaker, whose killing we covered in OSD 74. He answered an unexpected nighttime knock on his door with a gun in his hand. The people knocking were police responding to a noise complaint, and one of them shot Ryan dead as he attempted to put the gun down.

  • Andrew Scott, killed under almost identical circumstances (except in his case he was shot before he could even start to put the gun down).

  • Emantic Bradford, who drew his carry gun in response to a shooting that broke out near him at a shopping mall. He was then shot dead in the back by a police officer responding to the same shooting.

  • Gary Black, who used a gun to shoot a violent home invader and was then killed by a responding police officer who apparently mistook Gary for the suspect.

  • Kenneth Walker, who fired a shot from his bedroom hallway at people he thought were home invaders. They turned out to be police, who fired back and killed Kenneth’s girlfriend Breonna Taylor.

The good news, if there is any here, is that the chances of something like this happening to any particular gun owner are extremely low. About 44% of US households have guns, over 50 million people have contact with the police each year, and horrors of this shape number in the single digits per year. That’s no help to the people unlucky enough to have it happen to them, but it’s worth noting quite how astronomically unlucky they were. There are (very conservatively) on the order of 59,000 defensive gun uses per year. The chances that you’ll (a) be involved in one of them, and (b) be shot by police afterwards are tiny.

But all that said, the optimal number of times for this to happen is zero. Sometimes you hear these kinds of stories and the circumstances seem like some horrific, star-crossed accident. Other times they seem like outright murder. And there are times in between. But in all cases, instead of making excuses or searching for reasons that this time was ok, these things are a call to say, “Ok, nobody wants this. So as professionals, what is each of us going to improve so that this doesn’t happen again?”

And this all becomes more nuanced as concealed carry continues its 35-year march to ubiquity. There was a time when “person with a gun” meant there was an active threat. Today, “person with a gun” means … nothing. The more we spread gun rights, the more it means nothing.

So police have to navigate the difference between “person with a gun” and “person who I need to shoot”. And the only time that matters is when it’s hard — when a situation is at its most chaotic. Getting to that level of performance has to mean enforcing extremely high standards.

There are two parts to making police better at this:

  1. Their training. Every ownership-minded department in the country should be incorporating this into their training scenarios.

  2. Our own work as gun rights people. Even when things are someone else’s fault, effective people think, “Ok, what can I do to make this better? How can I bring this into my control?” Well, the more we normalize gun ownership, the more exposure police will get to people both carrying guns and, yes, using them in self-defense on the rare occasions that the need arises.

If you work with police or in a police department, you can work on the first one. And all of us can work on the second one. Let’s go make it happen.

This week’s links

The inaugural Gun Maker’s Match

Fifty people competed in this match, exclusively with homemade guns. Cool stuff, this is the kind of thing that speeds up normalization.

Oral arguments from the Ninth Circuit’s en banc rehearing of the original Freedom Week case

The timeline here is:

  • 2019: Judge Roger Benitez rules that California’s ban on standard capacity magazines is unconstitutional. This triggered Freedom Week, which ran until his ruling was stayed pending appeals.

  • 2020: A Ninth Circuit panel holds 2–1 that California’s ban is indeed unconstitutional.

  • Feb 2021: The Ninth Circuit agrees to rehear the case en banc (that’s the legal term for “we’ll do a redo with bigger group of judges”), and vacates the panel’s ruling pending the outcome of the en banc rehearing.

  • June 2021: Oral arguments take place for the en banc rehearing. The en banc court is likely to uphold California’s ban, but the discussion is interesting nonetheless. For what it’s worth the lawyer for our side is Erin Murphy, one of the top appellate litigators in the country.

2013 article about how the ATF runs investigations: “Feds paid a teen to get a neck tattoo of a giant squid smoking a joint”

And that’s understating it. Here are a few of the highlights:

The [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel] leads its latest investigative article with a headline-friendly anecdote about Aaron Key, a mentally disabled 19-year-old who started hanging out with the guys who ran a smoke shop near his house, taking them for friends. As it turns out, they were undercover ATF agents. And they paid the troubled teen and a friend $150 apiece to tattoo the fake shop's emblem on their necks.

ATF agents befriended mentally disabled people to drum up business and later arrested them in at least four cities in addition to Milwaukee. In Wichita, Kansas, ATF agents referred to a man with a low IQ as “slow-headed” before deciding to secretly use him as a key cog in their sting. And agents in Albuquerque, New Mexico, gave a brain-damaged drug addict with little knowledge of weapons a “tutorial” on machine guns, hoping he could find them one.

As they did in Milwaukee, agents in other cities offered sky-high prices for guns, leading suspects to buy firearms at stores and turn around and sell them to undercover agents for a quick profit. In other stings, agents ran fake pawnshops and readily bought stolen items, such as electronics and bikes — no questions asked — spurring burglaries and theft.

Agents pressed suspects for specific firearms that could fetch tougher penalties in court. They allowed felons to walk out of the stores armed with guns. In Wichita, agents suggested a felon take a shotgun, saw it off and bring it back — and provided instructions on how to do it. The sawed-off gun allowed them to charge the man with a more serious crime.

Here’s a 40,000 pound bomb exploding underwater

Because why not.

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