The fatal shooting of 12 yr. old Tamir Rice by officers of the Cleveland Police Department has generated protests, calls for increased training and even a civil lawsuit against the officers and department. News reports have speculated on what “should have been done” and a host of commentators have dissected the officer’s actions. But, as cliché as it may sound, reacting to a suspect who is carrying any gun is a life and death situation.
Many of us grew up playing with cap guns, airsoft rifles or pellet guns and never gave a thought to whether they looked like a real gun. If we had encountered a police officer there would have been little reason for concern by either party, not because the “firearms” were not realistic but because we were not carrying or using them in a manner which would cause them to look like anything other than what they were. That is not the case today.
More and more often we hear about individuals, both adults and juveniles, utilizing toy guns in a manner or for a purpose which leads others to believe they have a real firearm. Tucking it into their waist band, covering or removing the orange safety tip and even brandishing them during commission of a crime all can lead a responding officer, making a split second decision, to err on the side of caution.
When a report of a shooting involving a toy gun surfaces, there is no shortage of “experts” claiming that officers could have or should have done a whole host of things other than shoot the suspect. None of these opinions mean anything unless the “expert’ has ever found themselves in a similar situation.
I have and here is my story.
On a spring day several years ago, I was on patrol by myself in a metropolitan area where the local officer had recently left due to a transfer. I was familiar with the area, but did not know the local troublemakers. I also did not have immediate contact with the local police department as their frequency was not available on my portable; contact would require using either my cellphone or the radio in my truck.
As I approached the center of town, I decided to park my vehicle in a vacant lot and conduct foot patrol along a nearby hiking trail and greenway. As I crossed the street and approached a nearby bridge, where I knew anglers liked to gather, I noticed a group of teens hanging out on the adjacent corner and heard one of them state “He’s just a Game Warden” as I neared their position. Although the comment did cause me to raise an eyebrow, it did not mean much at the time. A few minutes later, after speaking to a few anglers from the bridge deck, I turned to find one of the youths approaching my position with a purpose. As I sized him up I realized one hand was pulling up his t-shirt while the other was gripping the butt of a black pistol.
Like the classic line goes, training kicked in. I immediately realized I would not be able to out draw the kid. Although I pride myself on my ability with my duty weapon, it was secured in a level three holster while his was simply tucked in his waistband and was already partially out. Plan B. I grabbed his wrist to prevent him from drawing the gun any further and did the only thing I could – punched him square in the nose. Before I knew it his friends were running and we were wrestling. That’s when I heard it. No, not the thundering bang of his gun being discharged, but the telltale sound of plastic hitting concrete as it fell to the ground. It was a toy.
Luckily, I did not have the opportunity to draw my firearm. Although I would have been justified in shooting, it would have likely killed him. I do not care who you are and how tough you are, that would have been hard to live with. But, every time I replay the scene in my head, I come to the same conclusion. If he had been a step further away or I had had a couple of extra seconds, I would have drawn and more than likely fired. In the end it would have been the correct move regardless of what I learned later.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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