Monday, March 14, 2005

Atlanta Shootings and Professionalization

At least twice I have discussed a dangerous attitude I call professionalization. It’s a belief that only professionals can protect us with guns—only they are to be trusted with such power. The courthouse shootings in Atlanta is proof that professionalization is a dangerous and foolish attitude.

By now everyone has read about last Friday’s shootings in the Atlanta courthouse. Just in case you haven’t; Brian Nichols was on trial for rape and kidnapping. A lone female deputy escorted him unshackled to a courtroom. He overpowered her, took her gun, shot her (she is expected to survive), went into the courtroom, killed a judge, a court reporter, and wounded a deputy and took his gun too.

When he left the courthouse he shot and killed another deputy, pistol whipped a reporter, walked to a subway stop, robbed a couple of pedestrians, took a subway train, killed an off-duty Federal agent and took his pick up truck, badge, and gun. He took a woman hostage, but she talked him down and he surrendered without incident on Saturday. He committed many other crimes than are on my brief list.

News analysts pointed out other security problems the Atlanta courthouse has experienced. One blogger and radio pundit blamed political correctness, which he claims led to lowered standards allowing more women to become law enforcement professionals. Another blogger blames the murders on unshackling prisoners since a jury might be predisposed to think a chained prisoner is guilty.

Those ideas are only part of what happened in Atlanta. The bottom line is simple: “Professionals” (who are supposed to be the only ones trusted with guns) are subject to human failings. The court deputies allowed routine to lull them into a sense of false security until someone made a decision to pair a 5 foot tall armed grandmother and a 6’1” 210 pound former college linebacker.

No matter how well-trained law-enforcement professionals are, they can't be our only source of security. They suffer complacency, have conditions placed on them (taking unshackled prisoners into courtrooms to maintain a presumption of innocence), or make mistakes that breach that security. No human system is perfect despite everything we do to make it so.

The Atlanta courthouse is a disarmament zone and so relies on its professionals for security. Yet Nichols got a gun from the only person he could—a deputy. In fact, he got guns from three different law enforcement professionals and killed two of them and wounded two others.

Imagine what it might have been like if professionalization had not arisen in this country.

Instead of being a disarmament zone, any number of citizens in the courtroom and courthouse would’ve been armed. If we truly followed the Second Amendment’s precept of a “well-regulated militia” each of these armed citizens, male or female, would’ve had access to low-cost but high-quality arms training including shoot/no-shoot scenarios, multiple target drills, control of the situation, you name it. Each citizen would’ve had access to ranges and low-cost practice ammunition. In other words, each citizen could be as proficient as those professionals who failed to protect themselves, a judge, and a court reporter.

In such a world, Nichols might have gotten a gun easier than he did (though not a given). He would know, however, that when he opened that courtroom door he would face five, ten, twenty, or more armed citizens. Knowing he would face so many gun muzzles, he might not have tried to grab a gun in the first place. Or, perhaps he might have decided that shooting a judge would be worth his own death. He may have succeeded in that goal, but he wouldn’t have gotten out of that courthouse.

Don't get me wrong. We need police and deputies. They serve us well, but they are human beings and will always make mistakes. The last line of defense is our nation’s citizens, our true militia. Professionalization, as we have seen, disarms our last line of defense.

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