Point and Shoot

Whenever a story about an inadvertent discharge of a weapon by a police officer appears, people knowledgeable about gun safety will explain how it violated every basic safety rule around.  The point is that the problem isn’t with guns, but improper gun handling. Had the police merely employed proper precautions, it wouldn’t have happened.

While this may be true, it fails to take into account one perpetual problem with the use of weapons by police. They don’t give a damn about firearm safety when it conflicts with the First Rule of Policing.

A California Highway Patrol officer and another emergency responder stop a vehicle at a checkpoint near the neighborhood where a federal immigration officer was shot and three local police officers were wounded during a violent confrontation with a suspect in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Randall Benton)

No, the man in the convertible didn’t do anything wrong. He’s not suspected of doing anything wrong. The officer pointing the rifle at his face has no reason whatsoever to believe he poses a threat.  And yet, there it is.

The backstory, via KTVU, is told in the caption to the photo:

A California Highway Patrol officer and another emergency responder stop a vehicle at a checkpoint near the neighborhood where a federal immigration officer was shot and three local police officers were wounded during a violent confrontation with a suspect in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Randall Benton)

Just a checkpoint. You know, checking cars just to be sure. Nothing special here. Except for the rifle pointed at some unrelated guy’s face.  As I understand basic firearm safety, you do not point a weapon at a person unless you are prepared to, and justified to, pull the trigger. The reason is pretty simple, because sometimes a finger trigger gets pulled by mistake, and it’s not a good thing to shoot people in the face by accident. It’s really bad for the person shot, as they tend to be dead for no better reason than an errant finger.

But cops had been shot, and there is nothing that causes greater fear than that. The officer with the rifle can’t be too careful, because, well, you never know.  You never know. Neither does the guy in the car who was minding his own business, driving along, stopped at a checkpoint and put at risk of his life because the cops don’t know who they’ll find.

What could possibly go wrong?

H/T Mark Bennett

39 comments on “Point and Shoot

  1. REvers

    “Sometimes a finger gets pulled by mistake.” I believe you meant “trigger”. Unless, of course, the cops are using gas….

    I do have to give this particular cop some credit, though. His finger is outside the trigger guard, where it’s supposed to be if you’re not ready to shoot.

    1. Jack

      I hope you are being sarcastic. Even if someone’s finger is off the trigger and outside the guard, I still don’t want a weapon pointed at my face! Especially one that isn’t exactly drop-safe (free floating firing pin, yeah I know it’s super light, but there are plenty of cases of dropped ARs firing) that is a soft-primer away from a police officer slipping and falling barrel first into my car door and blowing my fucking head off. You know they chamber rounds with the full force of the buffer spring because it makes a cool sound, dimpling the primer… How many officers have shot people because they slipped and the “gun went off” – yeah I know 99.9% of those aren’t finger-free discharges, but I don’t want a malfunctioning shoe to end my life.

      Also, one engine misfire, heavy object being dropped, or another officer slipping and the safety comes off, finger goes in the trigger guard, and a round is squeezed off. Any heat that officer gets because of this he full well deserves it.

      1. REvers

        You will note I didn’t say anything at all about whether or not this was a proper way for a cop to behave. I figured it was pretty obvious that it’s not, and I figured it was pretty obvious as to why. I merely took note that this particular cop has had at least some training on how to handle firearms, as opposed to what you normally see in this sort of circumstance.

  2. Mike Paar

    The only thing more intoxicating than a badge to a power-hungry psychopath is pointing a gun at someone. This gives them the power of life and death in their hands. On our website we often point out that child sex crimes aren’t about the sex but rather the power and control over the victim, which is directly related to the fact that more police officers are convicted of child sex crimes than all other professions combined. We sometimes have officers come along and leave comments stating that many of those profiled on our page are retired cops which construes our statistics, but we believe that tracking the retired cops actually serves to prove a very good point that when a police officer no longer has the badge, a gun, and the authority to use them they seek out a different venue in which to exert power and control over others.

    1. SHG Post author

      This comment comes remarkably close to being tossed. This is not the place to comment about relating a post here to your issues on your website. It’s close enough that I’ll allow it this one time, but not again. And this is not a subject of debate.

  3. Bruce Coulson

    Although gun safety can be a problem, it’s clear that the real issue is officer safety.

    One of the risks of being a LEO is that people may shoot at you, and you may be killed in the line of duty. Yes, this is bad, and some reasonable precautions to avoid the possibility are understandable. However, the idea that this is a risk an LEO accepts in the interest of protecting civilians seems to be going away. Putting civilians at risk in order to save officers’ lives is an inversion (perversion?) of the duties we presumed officers accepted and understood.

    1. Jamie R

      Cops are actually more likely to die in a traffic accident than get shot. The BLS statistics on job mortality show that the cop pictured above is more likely to get run over during a road block than to get shot. Cops are at even less risk than garbage collectors, who manage to do their job without pointing a gun at anyone.

      1. George B

        Actually, I believe their leading cause of death is suicide; but I suppose we could say they were shot…..

        1. SHG Post author

          No, it’s actually auto accidents, but more importantly, Jamie’s comment was irrelevant to the post and even the comment to which it purported to reply, and yours is not merely irrelevant, but wrong.

  4. Jesse

    I think you are missing the point here. An agent of the state, somewhere and at some point but not too far removed from this particular instant, was shot. Therefore under the perhaps unstated but nonetheless understood rules of policing, this officer WAS prepared to and WOULD BE justified in pulling the trigger at this hapless guy in his Mustang convertible.

    He was ipso facto not violating any gun safety rules, you see.

    1. ExCop-LawStudent

      Not true, at least as far as the gun safety rules. In addition to violating gun safety rules, he is quite possibly committing a criminal offense.

      Nothing that the driver of the Mustang did justified having the officer point a weapon at him. In most states, if a normal citizen pointed a weapon at someone without adequate cause, they would be charged with aggravated assault (or the equivalent in that state).

      No police firearms instructor who is reputable would advocate doing what this officer did.

      1. SHG Post author

        I don’t think that’s what Jesse was saying. I think this was a “cops are evil knee-jerk killers when one of their own gets hurt” type comment, and it has no place here.

        1. Jesse

          I didn’t say that at all. I did say that the gun safety rules for police are different than the rest of us. Don’t believe me? Look at the photo again.

          1. SHG Post author

            If that’s what you were trying to say, then it wasn’t at all clear. Even so, I don’t think that’s the case; the rules are the same, but violation of the rules by police are treated entirely differently than had a non-LEO engaged in the same conduct. And that goes for a great many things, as cops are given far different latitude for their conduct, which they justify as necessary to perform their function. As should be apparent, I am not of the view that the justification is at all valid.

  5. John Barleycorn

    You got it all wrong. This is a clear example of the officer gesturing via barrel positioning and movement for the driver to have a nice day and move along.

    Although it might have been a classic case of “I told you to roll your window ALL the way down!”

    Either way. The only thing truly out of the ordinary here is the clear under the chinstrap positioning of the passengers side LEO’s shades. Abhorrent really.

    Although I am sure the safety enthusiasts might point out that his watch might not be an ideal counter rest for the forearm of his weapon.

    I just have to get me one of those cool flat black helmets with the stylish and protective snap on nylon ear guards for my next night of illicit linking of tunes for no particular good reason at all in the comment section.

    1. SHG Post author

      I was wondering how long it would take for someone to notice the other guy. He does look quite dashing in his flat black helmet, doesn’t he?

    2. JimBill

      To be fair, the officer in blue may be holding the weapon by its magazine well not just resting it on his watch. I don’t see him doing anything particularly wrong other than looking like a goofball. Still… the appearance of professionalism matters too.

  6. Ultraviolet admin

    In the previous article it was carelessness and lack of planning leading to a shooting. Here, the shooting that can or will result are from fear and paranoid planning. I think warrior culture leads to lousy choices about weapons out of twin aims of wanting to look badass (thus more and bigger guns as well as using them as a prop) and the belief that citizens are the potential enemy (thus much more willingness to draw the gun in service of rule 1).

    I really want to know what Canada is doing right as they seem to be avoiding many of these incidents despite their high gun ownership.

    1. SHG Post author

      Don’t be hatin’ on donut lovers. It doesn’t make him a bad person. At least not the chin strap. The gun is a different story.

  7. Maryland_Shooter

    I’d be livid if anyone did that to me. The police mind set is they are SUPPOSED to do this sort of thing and it’s disgusting. They are widening the gap between LE and the public by these actions.

    But hey, at least the officer went home safe that night :-(

  8. NECOACH

    There’s definitely a lot of conversation about gun laws everywhere, but as i look at the picture above, this could be misconstrued. Why is the officer pointing a gun at the man in the first place is the logical thought process to begin with. I know you can’t tell if a person is harmful or not, but that still doesn’t give a person of the law the right to do so unless they know if someone is harmful to them. A person of the law doesn’t accidentally pull a trigger, that’s a bunch of garbage.

    1. Maryland_Shooter

      NECOACH

      Sorry but, though we agree mostly, I reject the notion the picture could be misconstrued. You simply DO NOT point a gun in someone’s face like that absent a damned good reason, period. Any LEO doing that for NO REASON is a punk, a bitch and a coward.

      AD (Accidental Discharge) v ND (Negligent Discharge) : no such thing as an AD. Keep your booger hooks off the bang switch unless you mean to fire the weapon – NO EXCEPTIONS. If you discharge a weapon without meaning to, it’s an ND.

      1. SHG Post author

        Remember that this isn’t a gun blog, so some of the issues (AD v. ND) may be of greater semantic value to others than they are here. Let’s not go any further down the road on aspects of this image that aren’t relevant here.

  9. Sam GLover

    Maybe I read too many blog posts by criminal defense lawyers about cops shooting people and dogs and other things that shouldn’t have been shot, but I’m at the point where I wouldn’t call 911 unless I had no other option. At a minimum, I feel like I would be putting my dog’s life in danger just by inviting a cop to show up at my front door. And potentially the lives of my family.

    My wife vehemently disagrees, and we’re nearing the point where we are going to have to teach our children how to think about the police, and when they should call them.

    But really, what other option do we have? Who else is there to call when you see a crime taking place in your neighborhood, or when you are the victim of one?

    1. SHG Post author

      Teaching children what to do is a very serious concern. Don’t let the fact that we spend so much time highlighting the negative make you forget that cops are people. Some are good. Some are bad. Most are good or bad, given the day, the situation, the mood. I don’t think it’s wise to teach children to fear or hate cops, but to not teach them to be cautious and prepared for the worst would be foolish as well.

  10. Doug Deaton

    The officer at the checkpoint in Roseville was not pointing his rifle at the driver in the vehicle. See this link for a detailed explanation of what actually happened:
    [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

    1. SHG Post author

      I saw the explanation. It’s possible that the gun is point to the right of the driver’s head. It’s hardly proof of “what actually happened,” and even if true, inexcusable.

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