Public Safety v. Private Safety
in part response to due some Sheriffs and Attorneys, working hard against Montana HB 228 Self Defense
Public Safety v. Private Safety
(by Gary Marbut, Montana Shooting Sports Association)
Us v. Them?
In his first remarks in opposition to HB 228, Jim Smith representing the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association declared that MSPOA sees HB 228 as a conflict between "public safety" and "private safety." This announced the "us versus them" bias that MSPOA may have towards HB 228, and perhaps towards the rest of us.
Retired Los Angeles Police Department detective Joseph Wambaugh writes fiction about police and policing. A very experienced observer of police personnel, Wambaugh speaks through his characters about the attitude and the worldview of police officers. Police officers, Wambaugh says, see people as divided into two categories, cops and perps (cop slang for criminal perpetrators). Any person not wearing a badge and not in prison, according to this attitude, just hasn't been caught yet committing his or her special crime.
Is this the starting point for MSPOA to consider citizen self defense? Is this the sort of respect MSPOA members hold for the people of Montana? Is this attitude leaking into Montana from places like Los Angeles? These are questions worth pondering as we examine public safety, and then private safety.
Terms. As used in this examination, "police" and "police officers" includes sworn employees of the Montana Highway Patrol and county sheriff's offices, as well as those of city police departments.
Mission creep. Although those who wear badges and guns were once commonly thought of as "peace officers," the title has changed and they are now more commonly known as "law enforcement personnel." With that change in descriptor has come a change in mission. The mission of peace officers used to be to keep the peace in their communities, especially by protecting the weak from those strong and predatory who are always among us. However, with the change to becoming law enforcement personnel it has become the primary mission of those with guns and badges to enforce laws - to apply the edicts of various levels of government, with force if necessary. It is posited that this change in mission is not a desirable one for people who value liberty.
No duty to protect. The oft-expressed motto of police "to serve and protect" has come to be a misnomer. It has been firmly established in the Nation's courts (e.g., Warren v. DC) that police agencies and police personnel have no duty to protect any individual - none, but only a duty to provide a general level of protection to the community (which has not been defined). This legal doctrine is documented at: HERE, HERE, and HERE.
If a serial murderer is kicking in your door intending to murder you, and you call 911 to ask for protection, police have no duty whatsoever to even respond. If they do respond, they have no duty to respond quickly. If they do respond quickly, they have no duty to do anything effective to protect you once they do arrive.
Sometimes nobody answers 911 calls; Portland, OR, 2006
Sometimes no officers respond; Everett, WA, 2006
This is underscored by a 2005 incident in Bozeman. The Bozeman Police Department responded to a call about a knife-wielding assailant and robber at a convenience store in Bozeman. BPD personnel surrounded the convenience store with guns drawn, and held in that surround for 30 minutes during which time the knife-toting robber raped the female convenience store clerk.
This is not to say that individual officers don't want very much to protect innocent people. Most officers in Montana do. However, current law says that they are not obligated to do so, and inadequate or interfering policies too often lead to tragedies such as the one in Bozeman.
Response times. A common saying among those who believe in self defense is, "When seconds count, police are only minutes away." This principle is nowhere more accurate than in Montana, so much of which is rural. We live in Montana for the lifestyle, not for the big money (big bucks maybe, but not big money). Because Montana is not a wealthy place, we cannot afford to hire enough police officers to insure that they are likely be nearby at the moment any individual needs protection. Even if we could afford to hire enough police officers that one would be likely to be proximate when needed, we wouldn't do so. To do so would give us a police state, the antithesis of liberty so cherished by Montanans. We will never have reliably short response times for police officers in Montana. This is why police are sometimes called the "thin blue line." This line is very thin, indeed, in Montana.
2006 police response times according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics:
11.7% of police responses to crimes of violence were within one day or longer
Only 26.6% of police responses were within five minutes
32% of police responses were between six and ten minutes
Almost 42% of police responses took over ten minutes
Large cities have an average response time of seven minutes for high priority calls
Brittany Zimmerman slain after 911 call, police do not respond; Madison, WI 2008
Response time to rural accidents in Montana is 1 hour 20 minutes
Response time to high priority calls in Madison County, MT, is 28 minutes
Arrest and case closure rates. Since police cannot reliably interdict individual crimes, then their function comes to be the cleanup crew. They bring the body bags to the incident. They attempt to catch the criminal and bring the criminal to justice, and thereby both get the criminal-minded off the streets and to create a deterrent to others who might consider criminal acts. But catching criminals is not that easy. In fact, only about 45% of violent crimes are solved by police. Thus, a person who is not protected by police, who is not able to protect himself or herself, and who is murdered, can die with the scant comfort of knowing there is a small chance that his or her murderer will be arrested (some of whom will be convicted and incarcerated, for a while).
"Nationwide in 2007, law enforcement cleared 44.5 percent of violent crimes …" (FBI, Uniform Crime Report)
Officer safety. Much ado was raised in the HB 228 public hearing about officer safety. That topic is certainly worth addressing. The mechanism of injury that causes the greatest risk of loss of life and serious injury to police officers is -- motor vehicles. Notwithstanding training, seat belt usage, crash resistant vehicles, and other risk management tools, motor vehicles are far the most dangerous part of the lives of police officers. Even if a police officer is adept or lucky enough to not crash his own car, he or she is subject to being wrecked by some other motor vehicle operator (happened recently in Montana). When out of their cars, they are subject to being run down by a motorist (happened not too long ago in Montana).
Motor vehicles are simply more dangerous to police officers than firearms. So, if one looks at officer safety from an objective risk management perspective, officers should be more fearful of motor vehicles than of guns, too often their own cars.
According to FBI data, in 2007 in the US, 55 officers were killed by gunfire. During that same period, 70 officer deaths are attributed to motor vehicles.
The only Montana police officer killed in 2007 was killed in a motor vehicle accident. (FBI data)
Danger of police guns. If their own cars can be dangerous to officers, what about their own guns? A study done of the Los Angeles Police Department determined that 43% of all officers who were shot were shot with police guns. This includes some officers shot in training accidents (happened in Montana not long ago). It includes accidental discharges (careless gun handling) where an officer shot himself or herself or another officer (happened in Montana not long ago). It includes "friendly fire" incidents where a police officer shot at a bad guy but hit a fellow officer instead. It does not include incidents where a police officer's gun is taken away and use against the officer (happened in Montana this decade). And, tragically, it doesn't include officer suicides, an endemic problem in the police community that is not well known. So, if a person argues that guns are dangerous to police, one must also acknowledge that police guns are perhaps as dangerous to police officers as are guns in the hands of people who are not police officers.
In both the Los Angeles PD and SO, accidental firearm discharges and friendly fire account for about 43% of officers shot. See the story in the LA Times and at Officer.com.
Private citizens use firearms lawfully to ward off attacks between 2 million and 2 1/2 million times each year (Dr. Gary Kleck, Northwestern University School of Law, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 86, issue 1, 1995) (Gun Defense Clock).
Shots are actually fired by these citizens in only 8% of the instances of legitimate self defense.
Victims who defend themselves with firearms are the least likely group to be injured (Robbery 7.7%; Assault 3.6%), much less likely than those who make no attempt at self defense (Robbery 23.6%, Assault 55.2%) or those who use other means.
Suppressing guns in the hands of private citizens does NOT reduce victimization by criminals:
"But the experience in other countries, even island nations that have gone so far as banning handguns and where borders are easy to monitor, should give Mr. Miller and his supporters some pause. These are places that just can't blame the United States or other neighboring states for the failure of their gun-control laws. Not only didn't violent crime and homicide decline as promised, but they actually increased.
"Great Britain banned handguns in January, 1997. But the number of deaths and injuries from gun crime in England and Wales increased 340% in the seven years from 1998 to 2005. The rates of serious violent crime, armed robberies, rapes and homicide have also soared. The Republic of Ireland and Jamaica also experienced large increases in murder rates after enacting handgun bans."
Professor John Lott
More guns, not less, would prevent shooting massacres, as was recently demonstrated in the Glasgow, Montana shooting incident.
Finally, so-called "Gun free zones" are among the most dangerous places in America. (Also)
Public Safety versus Private Safety
A legitimate way to look at this issue is that for every officer killed by criminal (not citizen) gunfire in 2007, at least 3,636 citizens were able to use firearms to ward off criminal attacks. While the 55 officers lost are tragic, that loss pales in comparison to the millions of citizens who were able to use firearms to save themselves when police couldn't be there, or couldn't get there in time.
In terms of public policy, there is absolutely no question about which is more important to or beneficial to the public, public safety or private safety. Public safety is important, but private safety wins hands down.
Public safety is clearly "Plan B," intended to provide the body bags for victims and to bring some predators to justice. But "public safety" should obviously never be allowed to supplant or take precedence over "Plan A" - "private safety" -, allowing private citizens the unfettered, front-line ability to defend themselves.