If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Friday, 24 September 2010

Shoot To Kill

There's a predictability about the reactions of Mark Saunders' family to his termination by the police marksmen. They have been highly critical of the police decision to shoot Mr Saunders after he was seen brandishing a shotgun out of a window. Yeah, nasty old police, trigger-happy, didn't give the guy a fair chance, what's the world coming to, etc., etc.

I don't want to be too hard on the family, who have lost a loved one in dramatic and unusual circumstances. But let's look at the facts.

A man is drunk, and unpredictable due to a combination of mood-controlling medication and cocaine. He is still drinking heavily. He has a shotgun, and is waving it out of an open window. He has already fired shots. The shots have hit private property. Some of these shots would have gone through a child's bedroom window if police hadn't erected bullet-proof screens beforehand. (It is likely these shots were directed at police, who were stationed in or on that house.)

Now this is only going to end one way, in my view. Unless you unequivocally disarm yourself, and make it clear that you have done so (for example, by dropping the gun and coming out with your hands up), then you are going to be stopped. And if those doing the stopping are armed police officers, then it's likely to be fatal. For you. So, surrounded by police marksmen and after several hours of negotiation, what did Mark Saunders do? He lowered the gun to the horizontal in the direction of police officers. He died seconds later.

And a good thing too.

These people who are criticising the police for not negotiating further, for being hasty, for lacking judgement and compassion for a clearly troubled individual - well, what would you have the police do? Allow the guy to carry on shooting and just hope he doesn't hit anyone? While being shot at yourself, be cool and skilful enough to disable the guy with a shot to the knees?

(It's worth thinking at this juncture about what we, as individuals, would actually do if faced with the same circumstances. You have a man, who you don't know, who is armed and has already fired his weapon. He is in a public place. People could get hurt. You have your own weapon trained on him. You watch. You wait. And then he lowers the gun and points it in the direction of some people (those people are your colleagues, but they are people nonetheless). What do you do? At what point does the situation become critical? Do you hesitate, and hope and pray that he's not going to shoot this time? Put down your weapon because you don't believe in killing, and it's someone else's problem, really? (And hope that someone you love isn't next in the firing line.) Or do you assess the best interests of everyone, decide that the danger to public safety at that instant is too acute, and act? Act, in the knowledge that you might get it wrong, and have to live with the consequences for the rest of your life, or right, and do your little bit to make the world a safer place? Because at that moment: It. Is. Up. To. You.

Very few of us are ever put in that situation, and thank God for that. But for those who face these situations on our behalf, we must trust them to make the right decisions as best as they can, praise them when they get it right, and understand when they get it wrong.)

The police did exactly what I would hope they would do in the circumstances - indentify an immediate threat to the safety and wellbeing of the general population, and act decisively to prevent loss of life.

So he was depressed, or drunk, or unhappy, or confused, or stressed. Sorry, I don't care. I've been all of those things, and I didn't shoot at people to 'blow off steam'. If you pose a serious threat to life and limb, then expect the police to stop you by whatever means they can. I have no sympathy, I'm afraid. There is a simple way to avoid being shot by the police, and that is not to fire your shotgun at random in a public place.

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