Deadly Force II: Shoot, Don’t Shoot?

You may want to review (or read) “Deadly Force” before seeing the sequel.

Every morning, when we open our eyes and swing the covers back, we take on a huge amount of responsibility; we are all responsible to and for each other. Certain professions and occupations magnify this responsibility by their nature. Of course, policing is one such profession; cops are explicitly responsible for the safety of everyone. They are explicitly responsible for social order and stability. They are explicitly responsible for each other and themselves — everyone is to go home safely at the end of the day. So, searching a suspect and missing a gun — even a small, disguised gun — is a big deal, a big mistake; it put cops in danger. All I can say in my defense is that I never made that mistake again; from that day on, every time I found something I had to remove while searching someone, I went back and re-searched the place it had been.

But, what’s the even bigger mistake I had made? It’s hidden in this passage from “Deadly Force”:

There was no door on the side of the plane facing me — it was on the left side, behind the wing. If someone opened that door and began firing a machine gun out of it, the cops to the left of the plane would be little better than defenseless, half-exposed, armed with six-shooters. I knew that if automatic weapon fire erupted from the plane, cops were likely to be killed; the only chance they would stand would be if those of us out of the line of fire on the right side of the plane peppered the fuselage with gunfire. We were ready.

Cops are trained never to shoot if they are unsure of their target or uncertain who may be in their field of fire, never to endanger an innocent with their gunfire. Along with the others, I was poised to fire blindly, at a target I couldn’t see, in an airplane populated by an unknown number of people under circumstances I couldn’t even guess at. If I had the presence of mind to give it even a moment of thought, surely I would have realized that the pilots were certainly innocent victims, and they were in the field of fire. But we were poised to slaughter two pilots, three prostitutes, and two gangsters to take out one shooter.

How would we have ever lived with that?

On the other hand, how would we have ever lived with the consequences of not shooting?

Did you read the recent post, “The Queen of Hearts“? I told a fictional story I had made up about a young police officer who was tortured by guilt after a failed rescue, thinking that her futile rescue attempt had delayed real help from reaching those she sought to aid, and had caused their deaths. Choices are hard. This discussion brought me to Rudy’s Rule: nothing that we do from love can ever do more harm than good.

Can we use Rudy’s Rule to untangle this real life conundrum? Can love inform this  shoot/don’t shoot situation? Not in the way I had hoped. But, old as I am, I have yet been surprised when I examined this conundrum in a clearer Light.

There are several mental states that various people identify as being “the opposite of love”; hate, indifference, and fear quickly come to mind. While I question the concept of an opposite to love, there can be no doubt that these states are all very, very different from it. However, fear is the one human mental state whose power approaches that of love. It is powerful enough to occupy the consciousness, and hold it against all comers, at least for the short-term. And while those who make a practice and a discipline of courage may sometimes not perceive fear as such, they are, none the less, aware of a powerful excitement that grips and holds their mind. In such a state, reason has no sway and even love my not have time to gain its advantage. Anything may happen.

And so, I crouched behind a leveled gun, poised to disregard my training, unleash havoc, and spill the blood of persons unknown. All that kept me from horror was the peaceful surrender of a criminal, something outside my control, something little better than chance. May God forgive me.

One who says May God forgive me takes on a responsibility, assumes a duty, actually two duties. The first one is repentance, a sincere and focused, applied resolve not to repeat the transgression. The second duty is forgiveness. I must always forgive those who, while no more guilty than myself, were not spared the horror. I owe this debt to all those who err in the grip of fear.

While Rudy’s Rule could not have helped me at the moment of crisis, repentance* and forgiveness are two ways it does enlighten this conundrum, two ways of applying love that must do good.

All this is not to suggest that I discount the horror of not shooting, had gunfire broken out — I am so grateful that I am not living with that guilt. But, in the final analysis, looking back from my cataract-impaired dotage with the clarity of vision afforded by hindsight free of tragedy, what I see is a question: Had the positions been reversed, and I was facing an open door with a gangster firing a machine gun at me, would I want my comrades to fire blindly through innocent bystanders to protect me?

Duh. When posed that way, every cop knows the answer — we all answered that question the day we accepted the job and the dangers inherent in protecting others from harm — Not on my watch!


*Footnote. Full repentance asks more of me than merely not shooting anyone in error. I also have to pursue steps that will prevent others from being in the position of staring at each other in fear. By extension, I have to also try to prevent groups of people (called armies) from staring at each other in fear with weapons poised. I have to work to prevent nations from staring at each other in fear, armies and missiles poised — who knows what innocents may be hurt? Remove the fear, give love space to work.

One response to “Deadly Force II: Shoot, Don’t Shoot?

  1. I also wanted to mention, my Friend John has posted a very short, very simple, and very clear Christian critique of the American economic system on his blog, “among Friends”, which is linked on the right side of this page, or can be found at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s