New York City police officers subdued an emotionally disturbed man who was “acting erratically and dodging cars on a busy Manhattan street Saturday night,” according to the Associated Press — but not before police bullets struck an innocent woman in the knee and grazed another woman’s buttocks. Police say the man reached into his pocket as if her were pulling a weapon, leading two officers to fire a total of three missed shots at the man. The man, who turned out to be unarmed, was eventually brought town by a Taser.
Setting aside the wisdom of the officers’ actions, this incident demonstrates a flaw in the common belief held by gun rights advocates that armed vigilantes are a solution to violent crime — “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” in National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre’s words. The two police officers involved in this incident received significant firearms training when they were recruits and they must pass a semi-annual test to demonstrate that they remain skilled marksmen. And yet even they missed their target and struck innocents. Similarly, nine bystanders were injured by police bullets during a shootout between police and an armed gunman last year.
If trained officers cannot be relied upon not to strike bystanders, LaPierre’s “good guy with a gun” would be even more likely to fire upon an innocent.