When the first reports of a multiple-casualty shooting outside the Empire State Building came down the line this morning, most of us thought the same thing: not again. Not another senseless tragedy, not another crazy lone gunman, not another mass shooting.
But the Empire State Building shooting — two dead, nine others wounded — wasn't really a mass shooting. Or, if it was, it was mostly perpetrated by two police officers.
Two New York City cops shot ten people outside the Empire State Building this morning. One of them was Jeffrey Johnson, a laid-off accessories designer who allegedly killed his former boss with a handgun. Johnson apparently pointed (but didn't fire) his gun at police; the officers opened fire, killing Johnson and shooting or grazing nine other people. Again, Johnson shot only his intended victim. All of the bystanders were hit or grazed by police bullets.
This is not very reassuring, to say the least. I don't not want the cops around if I'm unlucky enough to be near the country's next mass shooting; on the other hand, if this is what's going to happen, I'm not sure I want them around, either.
Or maybe it's not the cops that are the problem. On The New Yorker's website, Alex Koppelman points out that the officers were doing their job correctly:
Things might have been different a couple decades ago. But that was before Columbine, before more people were killed because officers waited before going in, rather than trying to end things immediately.
The old way of doing things "was really dumb, because we let people get murdered," [officer-involved shootings expert David] Klinger says. So since Columbine, "the operational doctrine of American law enforcement has shifted away from ‘he's probably going to stop' … to ‘someone who is in a public space where there are multiple victims available needs to be stopped as quickly as possible.'"
The old way of doing things was really dumb, but I'm not sure the new way is much better. Possibly we should focus on the thing that both the "old way" and "new way" have in common: guns.
Many of the arguments against gun control frame the issue as one of morality. The issue is not the tool, which is morally neutral, but the person holding it. Guns don't kill people; people do. The problem with mass shootings is not that someone has a gun but that the bad guy has a gun, and the good guys don't.
When the good guys shoot ten times as many people as the bad guys, it's hard to take these arguments seriously. When everything gets done right, and still nine people get shot by cops, the issue is no longer one of good guys and bad guys, or dumb tactics or smart tactics. It's one of tools. If we want to stop mass shootings, we need to take guns out of everyone's hands.