The recent shooting of off-duty Philadelphia Police officer Moses Walker, Jr.  proves the point that possessing a gun and knowing how to use it does not prepare one to defend oneself when you are surprised at gun point. On the early morning of August 18 Officer Walker was heading  home from his precinct when he was robbed at gun point by two men. While the details of what happened next are still being sorted out, Walker, who was armed, apparently tried to draw his gun but was shot and killed before he could get a shot off. Later his two assailants were caught and are currently being processed through the courts systems. Moses Walker Jr. was one of over 230 gun violence victims in Philadelphia this year, and one of over 32,000 nationwide.
Gun rights defenders – those who claim that having a gun protects you from would be offenders – should take pause. Moses Walker was a trained police officer, who as protocol requires, regularly practiced with his gun. Yet, even he was not able to defend himself.
Now some might say that such an incident means we have to have more guns in the hands of citizens and train people to defend themselves, but logic and the data suggests otherwise. While the National Rifle Association likes to regularly tell stories of gun owners defending themselves, the reality is that more often than not the opposite occurs. Insight into why this is so was made clear to me through a study done a few years ago with Muhlenberg College students who were put through the Pennsylvania State Police Firearms training. Some of the students were experienced gun users, others had no previous training or experience, but all passed the course. Then they were put in a situation where it appeared a gunman entered a classroom where they were in class; each of the students had their guns on them but none of them were able to get off a shot before they were “gunned down” with a paint ball. In analyzing the reasons for their ineffectiveness, the trainers pointed out that when accosted unexpectedly, our bodies go into a “fight or flight” mode, adrenaline kicks up and our heart pumps blood like mad to the extremities. The excess rush of blood hampered the trainees’ dexterity, and they were in some cases not even able to get the gun out of their holster. The trainers explained that it is only through regular sustained practice that trained officers are able to control their reaction enough to be effective in a high stakes situation.
The other reality is that pulling a gun on someone who pulls a gun on you, raises the stakes and creates a condition where injury is more likely to occur. Had Officer Walker not drawn his gun, he might have lived – minus his wallet. As a storeowner quoted by James Atwood (American and its Guns) said – “I don’t have a gun behind the counter so that I can live to the next robbery.” Unfortunately, our “wild west” mentality is do deeply engrained and re-enforced by the media, it’s hard for us to see the simple logic of lowering the threshold to prevent unnecessary death
While there are not simple answers to the factors contributing to gun violence, reducing the flow of illegal guns to the street would be a major step. The city of Philadelphia and other PA communities have been blocked by the state legislature from enacting laws such as limiting the sale of handguns to one per month; requiring guns lost or stolen to reported to police; and putting a ban on assault style weapons. As a recent Philadelphia Inquirer editorial (August 23, 2012) pointed out “lawmakers in Harrisburg ….have steadfastly refused to pass legislation making it tougher to buy guns”, “have refused to clamp down on straw purchasers”, “have failed to close the ‘Florida loophole’ which allows a person to carry a concealed gun in Pennsylvania even if his only permit is from another state.” Then it reports that Pennsylvania is in direct violation of the law when it says: “And despite a 2007 federal requirement, Pennsylvania has yet to give the National Instant Criminal Background Check System the records of 5000,000 people with mental illnesses who are barred from buying a handgun.”
The recent high profile shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin, and New York City coupled with the daily less-publicized violence that occurs in local communities must compel us to pressure our leaders and raise our voices against this madness. Polls show that most Americans agree with the sentiments expressed in this blog, but the concern has not risen to the level of acting and voting on those convictions. Until that happens and we get moving, the madness will continue.
(While this incident is several weeks old, I did not post this blog until now out of respect for Officer Walker’s memory. By all accounts he was deeply loved and caring man, with a strong Christian faith. His “homegoing service” was a tribute to the character of a man who loved his community and lived his values every day.)