We are easy talking about shootings according to the law. We all jump in. Everybody has an opinion.
Some of us are even at ease talking about shootings from a technical perspective — weapons, circumstances, tactics. The one thing nobody ever seems to talk about is shooting according to the heart and soul.
OK. Let’s say you’re covered legally. The guy pushed you down. You shot him. You’re in Florida. The local authorities say you are protected from prosecution by state law.
But the local authorities can’t protect your heart. You killed a guy who pushed you down. You see his kid on TV, weeping. You see his loved ones, and you know that their wrath and grief are exactly what your own family would feel if some guy had killed you with a gun because you shoved him.
Can you seal your heart against that guilt? Yes, maybe, but only by doing a lot of violence to who you are. If you do, you’ll never be the same person again.
Other people will smell it on you — the coarsening that armors your heart. Your place in the world will never be the same.
In order not to sacrifice who you are, should you stay the course and deal with the guilt? How? Can you? The story doesn’t end when you pull the trigger. It begins.
So why not just make sure you never pull the trigger? Avoid the problem. Don’t carry. Guess what? Not everybody has that luxury.
I saw something on social media the other day where a person said, “We allow the police to carry guns.” I laughed. Not a happy laugh. We don’t allow the police to carry guns. We require them to carry guns.
That gun on a cop’s hip is always a greater danger to her or him than to anybody else, because it’s on his hip all day. As long as that gun’s on the cop’s hip, every single conversation the cop has with a citizen is a gun-involved incident — the cop's gun.
If you mouth off, if you just get a little bit wise-guy with the cop, then he has to wonder if you’re drunk or off your meds. If so, maybe you’re going to amp it up. If you do amp it up, maybe things will turn physical.
If you’re that kind of person, when things get physical you’re probably going to go for the cop’s gun at some point. If you ever get your hands on that gun you’re going to use it to shoot the cop and/or somebody else. There isn’t a moment in that cop’s day that isn’t potentially a shoot-don’t-shoot scenario.
Let’s say the cop shoots you and is covered by the law. Other cops give him a lot of back-slapping emotional support. “Good shootin’, Ace.”
None of that protects his heart. He still has to decide. “Did I point a gun at another human being and pull the trigger when I didn’t have to?” The question doesn’t go away. We are only flesh and blood. We come and go. The question is forever.
I overheard a conversation the other day, which I will paraphrase. One young guy talking to another young guy. He said he keeps a gun in his car.
He said he was driving downtown one night with a buddy who probably has never fired a gun. They were somewhere where they had to drive through a mass of pedestrians in the street. People in the crowd started cat-calling them, insulting them, calling them punks.
“My friend said, ‘You got a gun, man. Shoot em!’
“I had to explain to him, it don’t work like that. I mean, sure, if they started pounding on my car or some shit I might get off a few rounds. But just for being fools, no, you can’t shoot somebody for that.”
So you can shoot somebody for pounding on your car?
Who knows now? Maybe you can get away with it in today’s climate. You feared for your life. You saw a guy with his hand in his pocket acting like he was about to pull a gun. I don’t think you should get away with it, but in today’s climate maybe you can get lucky.
Quite apart from cops — I’m not talking about cops — the culture seems to be that you don’t have to wait for someone to meaningfully threaten your life in order to shoot him. You can shoot him for threatening your honor.
But in a world where everybody else has a gun and some kid thinks he can shoot me if I bump his car with my elbow, am I a fool not to carry? I might yearn for gun control, even hate guns but have a life that puts me in situations where I need to protect myself. Should I not protect myself? If society is bound and determined to fill the streets with guns, is there some reason I should be the exception?
I have a sick and heavy heart when I think about the situation we put our police in, where everybody on the street and his damn dog has a gun. I assume the justice system worked properly in the recent murder conviction of former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver, and my heart bleeds for the family of the unarmed kid he shot. But I can’t get over the fact that Oliver and his partner were responding to audible gunshots when the tragedy occurred.
I get that merely hearing shots nearby does not justify shooting a kid who is driving away from a party. But if I were a cop in that situation and I heard shots, I would assume that every single person on the scene had a gun and might shoot me dead at any moment.
If I were a civilian in that scene and I saw cops and I heard shots nearby, I would get down on the ground and try to act like I was already dead. I would not move one muscle until the scene cleared.
You can argue your right as an American to run around and do stuff while cops are on the scene and shots are being fired. I think you’re going to wind up dead. Then guess what? Your rights are out the window, because dead people don’t have any rights.
Very few facts were known last Friday at the time of Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall’s press conference dealing with the Dallas police officer who had just shot a guy dead in his own apartment. It seemed she had entered his place by mistake, thinking it was her own.
The plainer the facts look in deals like this the less inclined I am to come up with my own verdicts. I have sat through too many trials. It’s amazing how wrong we can turn out to be about these things based on first impressions. Often the obvious facts are the least reliable.
But I know this. Some guy who had a life ahead of him doesn’t have a life anymore. He has nothing. The one thing that cannot be replaced, life itself, has been taken from him.
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A woman who had a life ahead of her, who was idealistic and brave enough to go through the training and become a cop, may wind up in the pen, everything broken, her entire life ruined. If she can find moments of privacy, mental spaces big enough to allow reflection, her heart will be ruled in those moments by one question. Why?
Why did she point the gun that time? Why did she pull the trigger? If she is strong, she can wrestle with it. If not, she’ll stay drunk and stoned and become in every moment less the cop, more the shooter.
Right and wrong are always important, especially in life and death, but right is not the biggest question in terms of sheer size. A much greater importance looms above right and wrong when the trigger is pulled.
I’m talking about the sheer metaphysical dimension of shooting, the gargantuan pit that opens when the trigger is pulled and a life falls in. Falling, falling, out of the world. The sound of the shot never stops. The falling never ends. If I’m the shooter, that sound will echo in my heart forever, no matter why I pulled the trigger. That’s the thing to think about.