Markers denoting spent shell casings are seen in front of a sheet covering a body on 5th Ave after a shooting at the Empire State Building in New York August 24, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
After former T-shirt designer Jeffery Johnson shot and killed his one-time colleague Steve Ercolino outside a Manhattan office last Friday morning, then walked around the corner where he himself was shot and killed by police outside the Empire State Building, there were renewed calls for gun control in the United States.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and a long-time advocate of stricter gun laws, said the incident merely confirmed his belief that the U.S. federal government needs to regulate civilian gun ownership more closely.
Others suggested the high-profile shooting was more proof that America’s so-called “gun culture” was out of control. One poster to Twitter suggested, “Too many big kills this yr, Colo Wisc empirestate. Gun control needed.”
The poster was referring to the killings July 20 at a screening of the latest Batman movie in Aurora, Colo., which claimed 12 lives, and the mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Aug. 5 where six were gunned down.
But it’s hard to see how the Empire State Building shooting could have been prevented by stricter gun regulations, especially when you know that all nine injured bystanders were wounded by police officers trying to shoot Johnson, rather than by Johnson shooting wildly into a crowd.
It’s a favourite mantra of gun controllers that the only people who should have guns are the military and police. So what would be improved in this case were gun ownership for civilians more closely restricted?
I am not second guessing the front-line officers’ decision to fire at Johnson as he strolled up a crowded street after murdering Ercolino. Security camera footage clearly shows Johnson pulling a .45-calibre handgun from a bag he was carrying and turning towards the two officers who confront him.
Officer Craig Matthews shot seven times, while Officer Robert Sinishtaj fired nine. Neither had ever fired his weapon in the line of duty before, but both had at least 15 years’ experience with the NYPD. According to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, “all nine of the (civilian) victims were struck either by fragments or by bullets fired by police.”
Does that make the police dangerous? No. But what it does is show the fallacy of thinking the police have some special talent in handling firearms that justifies them carrying guns and the rest of us not.
Back in the ’90s I assigned a reporter to a story about two women who had apprehended a burglar attempting to break into their garage. The pair were avid pistol shooters and used their registered handguns to subdue the thief without firing a shot. Police threatened to arrest the women for unlawful use of their firearms, so I told the reporter to find out what qualifications the women had and compare those to the standard officers had to meet every year.
Turned out the women — both crack shots — were better qualified with guns than most officers. Yet when the reporter asked police for comment, their spokesman went nuts on the other end of the phone. How dare anyone suggest well-trained police officers are no more capable than ordinary folks of handling guns in pressure situations!
But as that 20-year-old incident and last week’s New York shootings point out, police do not have a monopoly on the safe, defensive use of firearms. So, neither should they be given special favours when it comes to registering weapons.
Whatever regulations apply to police should apply equally to law-abiding gun owners.