When President Obama traveled to Minnesota Feb. 4 to make a plea for gun control, the photos of him delivering his speech struck a note that had to be intentional on his part – but perhaps carried a second message that he didn’t intend.
Behind Obama on the stage was a solid phalanx of uniforms, as dozens of police officers – and no one else – provided his backdrop.
It seems obvious that the president intended to convey the message that the forces of law and order were solidly behind his drive to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons falsely called “assault rifles,” forbid the sale of “high-capacity magazines,” and expand criminal background checks to private sales of firearms, among other proposed restrictions on the right to bear arms.
But there is another possible message those ranks of uniforms may have carried to Americans worried about threats to their civil rights under the Second Amendment.
Consider this: When Americans think about their rights, do they look first to the police to discuss how they might be altered, amended, limited or restricted?
Who goes to the police station to find out what speech is protected by the First Amendment? Who flags down a passing patrol car to receive definitions of our guarantees of freedom of religion, or the right to a trial by jury, or to be protected against self-incrimination, or to be allowed to confront one’s accusers, or to be granted a writ of habeas corpus?
So why should we consult the police when it comes to exercising our God-given right to bear arms?
Yes, all rights have limits – but it’s not up to the police to set them. With that in mind, we shouldn’t be surprised that many of our fellow citizens think that seeing Obama backed up by a solid wall of official uniforms was a deeply disturbing – even chilling – sight.
Now, no one should interpret the above as meaning that I do not value the service and contributions of law enforcement officers. I am the son of a police officer, and have first responders in my immediate family.
In truth – though you won’t often hear it on the evening news – many police officers and other emergency services personnel are strong supporters of Second Amendment rights.
However, we should remember that many higher-level leaders are political appointees, and naturally follow the political views of those who put them in their jobs.
So we shouldn’t be surprised when big-city police chiefs, who owe their jobs to liberal politicians, toe the party line on such issues.
Therefore, we shouldn’t automatically think we can trust those officials to be truly neutral on this issue – or to be overly concerned about protecting our rights.
It is appropriate that police should desire order. It is not appropriate that free citizens in a republic should be told that those desires outweigh our right to exercise our liberties.
With all this in mind, let’s look at some current news items that bear on the issue of crime and gun control.
First, after an extensive manhunt, police in southern California have tracked down a former Los Angeles police officer and naval reservist named Christopher Dorner. He is alleged to have shot several police officers, killing two, and murdering two civilians, one of whom is related to another officer against whom he held a grudge related to his dismissal from the LAPD.
The case has understandably held national attention for several days, because Dorner was trained in weapons use and military and police procedures. Thus, he was seen as a far greater danger than the usual mentally disturbed person with a gun.
However, unlike the media’s typical (and usually false) depiction of mass shooters as out-of-control right-wingers, Dorner left a detailed manifesto of his likes and dislikes that shows his strong affinity for left-wing causes.
In it, he expressed support for gun control and voiced admiration for many left-of-center media, entertainment and political figures. He also expressed his “hatred” for the NRA and other gun-rights advocates, whose families, he said, should “die horrific deaths.”
He used profanity to describe backers of Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that supported traditional marriage laws, and scorned conservative Republicans while praising those the media call “moderates.”
The people he praised are not responsible for Dorner’s reign of terror, of course. But what’s interesting is that very few mainstream media outlets noted the details of Dorner’s views.
As the National Review’s Charles W. Cooke wrote on Feb. 8, can anyone doubt that if Dorner had praised conservative figures, it would have led newscasts and been pasted across front pages all over the nation?
However, Cooke said, “In the combined 3,240 words of the lead stories of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press (describing the manifesto), there is no mention whatsoever of the political contents of Dorner’s screed. Even the BBC ignores the inconvenient bits.”
Does anyone even wonder why? The same media was anxious to tie Sarah Palin’s “crosshairs” map of vulnerable Democratic districts (and who didn’t mention similar target-filled maps created by Democrats about Republicans) to the Gabby Giffords shooting.
Her assailant, however, was a dangerous lunatic who was actually a fan of left-wing conspiracy websites, but the media ignored that, as it has ignored Dorner’s actual leftist political viewpoint.
Yes, what set Dorner off was something he viewed as a personal and professional slight. But that hasn’t stopped numerous sites on the hard left cropping up to support him and his crimes as due penalties for police abuse.
If that had happened on the right, the media wouldn’t ignore it. Why are they turning a blind eye this time?
All right, the question was rhetorical, as we already know the answer. If it doesn’t fit the major media’s “all our enemies are on the right” meme, it isn’t worth mentioning.
Second, there is another disturbing facet to this case. When the first descriptions of Dorner went out, police were quite appropriately sent to the homes of people named in his manifesto to protect them from harm.
But in two separate cases, the officers supposed to be protecting Dorner’s potential targets shot at three innocent civilians, wounding two of them, who were conducting personal business in the neighborhoods under surveillance.
In one case, two Hispanic women, a mother and daughter, were delivering newspapers in a pickup truck that was a different color and make from the one Dorner was said to be driving. Yet, they were both shot and wounded by officers who riddled their truck with bullets.
How could two women be mistaken for a 6-foot-tall, heavy-set black man? Or how could a teenager in a separate pickup truck, also shot at by officers, be mistaken for Dorner?
That willingness for police to shoot without being certain of their targets is highly disturbing, as well as being unprofessional to the Nth degree. Such shootings may be extremely rare, but yet they happen, and these two examples are by no means the only examples of law enforcement mistakenly targeting innocent civilians for gunfire.
What is wrong with the way we train police that such things could happen?
It certainly lends substantial weight to the argument that we should not give up the right to protect ourselves with firearms and instead have to rely on people who would do such things.
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org