October 24, 2013

Andy Lopez was shot dead by a Santa Rosa police officer as he walked down the street carrying a pellet gun modelled on an assault rifle. Photograph: AP/The Press Democrat

The comments on this story, about the shooting of a 13-year-old boy (because, according to the report, he was carrying a toy gun police mistook for real) are instructive. Not just because they're full of racists, though of course they are. They're also full of people who think the police had no choice but to shoot someone carrying what appeared to be a deadly weapon:

The kid had what seemed to be a deadly weapon, he didn't drop it when ordered, he may have acted threateningly. it's not as if the police rocked up, and decided to shot a kid for no reason.

This guy posted this comment over and over in the thread, repeating not only his bad grammar but also his point: That if the cops see you with a weapon, they have the right to shoot you dead.

I thought of all the concealed-carry fights on the state level over the years, of the "bring your gun to Starbucks" assholes, of every weekend wannabe who gets his jollies strapping up to go to the grocery store. They might, in their second-amendment fervor, decline to give their guns up to police. They might resist, assert their rights, or otherwise "act threateningly."

Are the cops left with no options in their cases, as well?

You can, after all, buy an AK-47 legally, and carry it around if you want. You can carry a pistol if you have a permit for it. You can keep a six-shooter in your kid's diaper bag in every state in the union if you have the proper license.

That would mean you have a deadly weapon. Can the cops blow your head off if they see you heading toward them with it?

We never seem to talk about the people who are shot by police on the mere presumption they have a gun, when we talk about our American love of firearms.

Yet people who jaw on endlessly about the latter will also espouse the right of law enforcement to the former, perhaps because none of us imagine suffering the tragedies of others. Perhaps because we never consider our own behavior suspicious, or think we would act or make choices to avoid every dangerous situation.

Or perhaps the loudest proponents of our uncontrolled gun ownership society simply never see themselves in the faces of the slain.

Allison Hantschel is a former journalist and author whose work can be found at First Draft.

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