(Editor’s Note: Staff writer Steve Dunkelberger attended the University Place Public Safety and Criminal Justice Community Academy class that highlighted the issues facing law enforcement officers and communities along the way. Tacoma has a similar program every fall as well.)
America is a “gun nation.” America is actually home to more guns than people, with about 371 million firearms for the nation’s 319 million people.
Only about a third of those guns were purchased for hunting, while about 60 percent were bought for personal protection against crime.
There is some rational to that fear of falling victim to crime, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report that stated roughly one in every 285 Americans will be murdered in the course of their lives based on 2014 murder rates. About 42 percent of Americans will be the victim of aan assault, robbery or rape in the course of their lives while 83 percent of people will be victims of an attempted or completed violent crime. About half will be victims of a violent crime more than once during their lives.
There were 586 fatal gun accidents in 2014, or about .4 percent of all of the nation’s 136,053 accidental deaths, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All gun accidents generated 16,000 emergency room visits, or about .06 percent of all of the 29 million visits to emergency rooms.
Pierce County Sheriff’s Department firearms instructor Dan Hacker said that while gun ownership is a right, there is also responsibilities that go along with that right. Gun safety is chief among them, particularly by following four points: treat all guns as if they are loaded; only point a gun at something you are willing to destroy; only put your finger on the trigger when you are shooting and know your target – and what’s behind it.
Gun owners must have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but the state does not require a gun owner to “open carry” a weapon as long as the gun is in plain sight. That’s an issue that clashes sometimes between what is legal and what is smart, he said, adding that non-gun owners also often have an unrealistic fear of people who have them.
“I would say 99 percent of lawful gun owners are lawful people,” Hacker said, noting that it’s the criminals with guns people should be more worried about since people interact with gun carriers every day at the store or along the sidewalk without much thought because the guns are concealed in holsters or in purses which is a practice he prefers from his tactical perspective.
“I want the bad guy to know I have a gun only when I want him to know,” he said.
Hacker then made up a scenario of bank robbery when someone openly carrying a gun is in the bank. The armed robber would likely then either shoot the person openly carrying a gun right away or prompt a gunfight with unarmed citizens around. Someone with a concealed weapon, on the other hand, could concentrate on getting a good description the robber before the criminal escapes -- to be arrested later rather than risk a shootout.
“Our job is to do what is reasonable, but not everyone makes reasonable decisions,” he said. “It is not always black or white.”
Members of the class than had a chance to test their own decision making skills by using a modified handgun that “shoots” a laser at a screen as a police-call scene plays out. Law enforcement officers use training screens to gauge their communication skills with “suspects,” decision-making abilities about how to react as the scenario changes and their reflexes if the scenario requires the use of deadly force. About a dozen academy students volunteered to participate, testing their skills with otherwise routine calls that included an angry veteran yelling on the street who just needed someone to listen, to a disabled truck along the roadway that turned into a fight over a lover triangle and swings of a metal bar, to a mentally disabled person with a gun that turned into a “death by cop” ending. The computer program apparently has some 1,200 scenarios that can change “choose your own ending style” based on the “officer’s” statements and actions.
What was clear during each scenario was that responding officers have to digest and react to floods of information within seconds during even “routine calls” since every incident can become deadly. What is also true is that people – even with guns drawn -- can’t always shoot suspects by waiting for them to raise their guns before firing. Reaction times just aren’t that fast.
“Both being dead is not a win,” Hacker said.
Who owns guns?
Group Portion Owning a Firearm
Statistics from Justfacts.com/Gallup