The man we didn't shoot
I did not want to write this column. As soon as I heard that a 65-year old motorist had been accosted by a 49-year old motorcyclist at a stop light and the older man subsequently shot his assailant, I already knew what the political reactions would be. Road rage be damned, this story would be about guns.
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”
The right-wing would celebrate the incident as a shining example of a Second Amendment remedy for criminal intimidation while liberals would cite it as proof positive that 21st century Missouri was devolving into a farcical replay of the Wild West. Sadly, the predictable responses played out predictably; and as a retired city cop who spent a substantial part of his career investigating homicides, I wound up feeling compelled to throw in my two cents worth of commentary.
Despite what you may have been led to believe by Hollywood, there is no glamour or glory to be gained by shooting people. I’ve interviewed hundreds of shooters and can guarantee that elation is the least likely emotion you’ll encounter under the circumstances. Look at the tapes of George Zimmerman after he shot Trayvon Martin — does he look happy to you?
Most people fire their weapon because they’re afraid, which is probably why they acquired a gun in the first place. They thus tend to view themselves as victims rather than heroes. Victims may be anxious, shaken, confused, sometimes nauseous — but rarely ebullient because the decision to pull the trigger is a weighty one. I remember an incident from back in the ’80s that illustrates my point.
It was a hot summer day, and I was working in the Third Detective Bureau on the city’s near south side. My partner that shift was Jim “Bugs” Moran. At the time, he was a young patrol officer who was doing a six-week stint in plain clothes as part of district program to familiarize the blue shirts with what the dicks did for a living. Today, he’s a captain with a district of his own.
We were riding the McRee neighborhood looking for a robbery suspect when a call was dispatched two blocks north for a man flourishing a gun. Due to our proximity, we were the first car to make it to the scene.
I screeched our unmarked Chevy to a halt about 20 feet in front of a large black man standing in the middle of the intersection, waving a revolver at demons only he could see. Onlookers had taken shelter as best they could, wanting to avoid gunfire but still interested to see how the show would turn out.
With weapons drawn, we jumped from the car and took cover behind its opened doors. “POLICE OFFICER,” I shouted, “DROP THE F__ING GUN!”
The “police” part of my introduction was something of a formality because uniforms or not, area residents 5 years of age and over recognized the heat when they saw it. And the gun command went largely unheeded, though our adversary did lower his weapon to his side, barrel pointed toward the street.
An eternity of seconds passes as we trained our weapons at center body mass — just like they teach you at the range — and repeated our demand that the doer drop his gun. He answered our entreaties with a dull gaze. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, it looked to me like nobody was home but the lights were on.
We finally approached the subject, fully prepared to light him up if he lifted his weapon. I grabbed the wrist of his gun arm with my left hand and stuck my .357 magnum up into the bigger man’s face, again demanding that he disarm. We stood there breathing on each other until Bugs crossed behind me and snatched the weapon from his grasp. The neighbors were impressed.
I recount this incident not to bore you with war stories, but to demonstrate that most people will go to great lengths to avoid shooting a total stranger — if they feel they are in control of the situation.
However, if this guy had startled me by reaching into my car to assault me because he didn’t like my driving habits I’d have shot him in a heartbeat. Are you supposed to sit there and take a beating in hopes that your assailant will tire of his sport before he inflicts permanent injury or death? And if one has a wife and grandchild to protect — as did the shooter in the traffic encounter — the decision to fire becomes all the more obvious.
I don’t know the man who was shot in the road rage incident but I’d be willing to bet that if he had approached the offending vehicle and found the driver to be, say, a linebacker from the Rams, he might have let the errant motorist off. Now he knows that Grandpa with a .380 merits similar courtesy.
The adage has it that an armed society is a polite society. Given Missouri’s recently liberalized laws regarding firearm possession and self-defense, we shall see if this is so.