Thomas Sowell

"Killing an Unarmed Man." That is how the front-page headline in the New York Times characterized an incident in which a man tried to run over a policeman with his car and was shot by three policemen on the scene, including his intended victim.

An automobile is a deadly weapon. If you are killed by an automobile, you are just as dead as if you had been shot through the heart.

A phrase like "an unarmed man" makes a talking point-- as if matters of life and death should be discussed in terms of how you can spin a talking point.

The biggest and most common talking point when the police fire at someone is counting how many bullets they fired. There are politicians, media people and-- above all-- community activists who can work themselves into a rage over how many bullets were fired.

If we stop and think-- which of course the demagogues hope we will never do-- it is hard to see any moral difference between killing someone with one bullet or with dozens of bullets.

People who have never fired a gun in their lives say that they cannot understand why the police fired so many bullets. If it is something that they have never experienced, there is of course no reason why they should be expected to understand.

But, even after confessing their ignorance, such people often proceed to spout off, just as if they knew what they were talking about.

It is very easy for a pistol shot to miss, even in the safety and calm of a firing range, much less in a desperate situation where a decision must be made in a split second that can cost you your life or end someone else's life.

In a life-and-death situation, nobody counts how many bullets he is firing, much less how many bullets others are firing. It is not like a western movie, where the hero whips out his six-shooter, fires one time, and the villain drops dead.

A factual study of more than 200 real life incidents where the police fired their guns found that most of the shots missed.

Even at a distance as close as six feet, just over half the shots missed. This may be far less surprising to people who have actually fired pistols than to people who have not.

Not only can someone who is shooting a pistol for real not know beforehand whether or not his shots will hit the person who poses a danger, often it is not clear afterwards whether the shot hit anybody, depending on where it hit.

Nor does even a clear hit always render the wounded person harmless. When your life is on the line, you keep on firing until you are damn sure it is safe to stop.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate



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