The other night I was watching television, fixated on the DC area sniper shootings. They were showing footage of the lock down on I-95 after one of the shootings. The footage included a scene of a man who was pulled over in a white van. Just for driving a white van, the man had the pleasure of being forced out of his vehicle by three police officers at gunpoint. The three officers pointed their weapons directly at the man even though he posed no immediate threat to the officers. The man proceeded to lie down on the pavement. With that, the footage ended.
This brings us to a disturbing trend that has been occurring in police agencies and departments across the country. Police are more apt to brandish weapons and aim in on the citizens they have sworn to protect. Much of this can be explained by the recent militarization of U.S. law enforcement. The spirit of posse comitatus has been weakened by incidents like: Ruby Ridge, Waco, Elian Gonzales, Amidu Diallo, and now the DC sniper. All these incidents have shown just how much the government is willing to threaten us in order to "protect" us.
Let's say Congress decides to repeal the Posse Comitatus Act and allows for an overtly military stance amongst law enforcement organizations. That would still not excuse the pointing of weapons against innocent civilians. Why? Even in the military, unlike the recent illustrations by U.S. law enforcers, there are strict rules regarding the use of weapons and deadly force. Let's examine some military rules for weapons safety and apply them to a militarized law enforcement.
The U.S. Marine Corps represents the best marksmanship techniques and philosophy of any branch of the U.S. armed services. Here are the safety rules, which govern Marines in the handling of all firearms whether on the rifle range, in garrison, in field training, or in combat. These rules are universal and should be applied by any handler of firearms. First, it is important to note that these rules assume control of a firearm by an individual.
- Treat every weapon as if it was loaded.
- Never point a weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you intend to fire.
- Keep your weapon on safe, until you intend to fire.
Violation of any of these rules could lead to punishment as a safety violator with a punch in the face by an NCO, a written reprimand, or prosecution under the UCMJ, depending on what may have occurred during the violation. You will notice that these rules do not mention if the weapon is loaded or not. It does not matter. All weapons are assumed to be loaded. What matters is intent and responsibility for individual actions. The Marine Corps knows well that weapons are inanimate objects, and are powerless without human actions to employ them. In a logical manner, we can correctly make the following implications to the following rules.
- If your weapon is off safe, then you intend to fire.
- If your finger is on the trigger, then you intend to fire.
- If you point a weapon at anything, then you intend to shoot it.
Whether an individual "means" to or not, that individual is responsible for the weapon he is controlling, and his intent is quite clear, especially when in violation of the rules. The last rule's implication is the most important. It will be granted that a weapon has to be pointed in some direction when not employed, and that direction is either directly up or down to maintain a safe situation. Most importantly, a weapon should not be pointed at other people, unless the individual intends to shoot at other people. Which leads us to the next logical implication.
If you point your weapon at a person, then you intend to shoot that person.
These rules are quite simple and easy to follow. Now let's apply them to some actions recently taken by law enforcement officers.
In this first picture we see an officer standing in the middle of traffic after one of the recent DC sniper shootings. The weapon he is carrying looks to be a carbine version of an AR-15 or M-16. Let's look for any rule violations. It looks as if he is treating the weapon as a loaded one, with a magazine inserted, with his finger extended off the trigger in good technique. From this picture, it is hard to decipher if his weapon is on safe. So like good Americans, we'll assume he is innocent until proven guilty, even though this is something he is not doing for the owner of the red truck. Where is the officer pointing the weapon? In this case he clearly points the weapon at the red truck. This officer, whether he means to or not, intends to shoot this red truck. Should he shoot this red truck? Probably not, no warrant has been issued nor has any probable cause occurred.
In this case, using the weapons safety rules combined with the highest law of this land, he is in clear violation. Looking to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution we see, "No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." It is clear in the case of this officer, he is intending to shoot the red truck. This red truck is the property of the owner, who is most likely the driver or someone associated with the driver. Shooting the property in this case is tantamount to destroying the property. Destroying property is another way of depriving someone of his property. It is clear that this officer intends to deprive the red truck from its owner without due process of law. With this intent, he is threatening to civil society.
Let's look at another picture and apply the same weapons handling rules. This officer working for the U.S. Border Patrol is carrying what looks like a "MP-5." He seems to be treating this weapon as if it was loaded, with his finger off the trigger, and we'll assume the weapon is on safe. However, he has pointed the weapon at this innocent child and the man holding him. The man holding the child is not threatening the child, nor is he threatening the officer. It is unfortunate, because the officer intends to shoot both the boy and the man in this situation. Shooting these people may harm or kill them.
In this case, the Border Patrol claims it was concerned about the safety and protection of this child. They chose to protect him by doing what many law enforcement organizations now do. They protect him by threatening his life. The man holding the child in the picture did no such thing, nor did his family. However, the state has other ideas about "protection." Once again we have an example of an officer with an intent that is threatening to civil society.
These examples lead us to question the true aims of current law enforcement. Are they serving to protect, or to control? The recent lock downs on I-95 give little indication of protection. If they wanted to reduce people's outside exposure to the beltway sniper, wouldn't they free up traffic to allow the innocent to seek cover? 99.99% of the people on that road were innocent, however all were held up and assumed to be guilty.
Are they interested in the safety of those they swore to protect, or their own safety? An understanding of economics may help with this answer. In the beginning of Von Mises masterpiece, Human Action, he explains, "…the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least alleviate the felt uneasiness." It is quite clear in both these instances the officers have acted to remove the uneasiness they may feel in these situations. In both cases uneasiness is alleviated by the gear they chose for the situations: helmets, flak jackets, bulletproof vests, extra magazines, pistols, and rifles. Marines have served in extreme combat zones with far less gear than these policemen have. They also relieve some of the easiness by pointing their weapons, not just at criminals, but at everyone. It is here where we see the doctrine of the preemptive strike. Although these men do not shoot these people, they certainly intend to in order to preempt any actions they fear may happen. Which leads us to question the courage of many that serve in law enforcement today. If they fear uncertainty of future events, then maybe this isn't the job for them.
May they remember that everyone is innocent until proven guilty under the laws of this land and that pointing a weapon at someone is inciting that someone as guilty. May they also remember that, the people are the masters of this government, not to be controlled by those with unwarranted claims to power.
October 26, 2002