This morning during my daily news reading, two seemingly opposing statements collided in my head.
- “An armed society is a polite society.”
- “I shot him/her because I thought he/she had a gun.”
The former is an aphorism used by gun rights advocates as an assurance that if more people were armed, there were would be less violence in our society. The latter is what I have read repeatedly in stories involving an armed person—on-duty or off-duty policeman or armed civilian—give as the reason that they aimed their gun at another human being and fired: they feared for their lives because they thought the other person was also armed.
The most recent of these stories I read was the case of Dante Servin, who was just exonerated of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the killing of Rekia Boyd. The judge seems to have ruled as he did because the charges were not sufficient to what Servin is alleged to have done while off duty. He fired over his shoulder into a group of youth as he drove away from them because he thought one of the young men was reaching for a gun in his waistband. He shot the unarmed young woman in the back of the head, killing her.
According to the judge, Mr. Servin was not reckless because he fired with intent and so should have been charged with murder, not involuntary manslaughter. The article stated that he cannot now be charged with the greater crime of murder because of the manslaughter charge. I did not understand double jeopardy to work that way, but that’s a different issue.
Would you shoot this dude?
My moment of cognitive dissonance relates to the two statements above, simply because I don’t see how they can both be true. Either people who are armed show greater respect, tolerance, and care with others because they suspect they are also armed or they pre-emptively shoot them because they suspect they are also armed. If the former statement is true, then we should see fewer and fewer cases in which one person shot another because they suspected they were also armed. It is, in any event, difficult to prove that you didn’t shoot someone because you thought they might shoot back. Presumably, the only way to gather this information would be to take a poll, asking persons with carry permits, “Have you ever refrained from accosting someone because you thought he or she was also armed?”
Obviously, this is not the same thing as gathering empirical evidence.
If the latter is true, then I would expect to see a pattern of defensive shootings in situations where the shooter has an increased expectation that the other person is indeed armed. This is empirically verifiable. It is, in fact, occurring, and I don’t think it’s too wild a speculation to propose that among those people who shot someone because they thought they were armed are those who also believe that an armed society is a polite society.
At best, statement #2 calls into question the meaning and usage of the word “polite” in statement #1. Which brings to mind a phrase that is much-used in our home and among the people we hang with:
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” (Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride)