Providence's policy is now being re-examined as the city faces a $20 million civil rights lawsuit over the shooting of Sgt. Cornel Young, Jr., who was killed in the year 2000 while he was off duty and trying to break up a fight. He was dressed in baggy jeans, an overcoat and a baseball cap, and he was carrying a gun.
Young's mother, Leisa Young, says the rookie officer who shot her son was not adequately trained to recognize off-duty or plainclothes officers.
Earlier this year, an Orlando, Fla., police officer fatally shot a plainclothes colleague who was investigating underage drinking outside the Citrus Bowl. The plainclothes officer had gotten into a scuffle with tailgaters and fired his gun into the air.
In 2001, two uniformed officers shot and killed an undercover detective when he pointed his gun at a suspected car thief in Oakland, Calif.
So now, the 20,000 member International Association of Chiefs of Police has called for off-duty officers who witness a crime call for assistance rather than pulling a weapon.
You don't need bifocals to read between the lines and see where that's heading: No cop needs to carry a gun when off duty. At which point, how long do you suppose it will be before we're told, "Not even off-duty cops can carry guns any more: surely an average civilian without their level of training shouldn't be allowed to blunder around carrying one of these indiscriminate weapons of death."
First let us point out a vital component of this reported trend which The Associated Press seems too Politically Correct to note: Decades ago, nearly all cops were white. But rookie Providence police officer Cornel Young Jr. was a young black man.
Add that fact to the equation, and let us see if we can summarize the logical chain of argument at hand:
1) When police officers see people carrying or drawing guns who they cannot readily identify as fellow police officers, they tend to shoot them and ask questions later, especially if they're black.
2) This is leading to the deaths of off-duty cops by friendly fire.
3) The solution is to discourage or prevent off-duty officers from using or carrying firearms.
Anyone else see a problem, here? How about that first premise: "1) When officers see people carrying or drawing guns who they cannot readily identify as fellow police, they tend to shoot them, especially if they're black"?
America is an armed nation. The Second Amendment guarantees each American -- and since it's a "civil right," this includes women and children, just as "civil rights" means black children also have a right to use integrated restrooms and buses -- the right to own and carry firearms. Beyond that, it reminds us that doing so is an able-bodied citizen's duty (since a well-armed citizen militia is "necessary to the security of a free state.") Further, the 14th Amendment further bars any state or local authority from infringing this vital right for federal citizens. (And if you read your history books, you know the Congress meant especially "black citizens.")
In its 1997 study "Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms," the National Institute of Justice determined 25 percent of Americans own guns -- In 1994, 44 million Americans owned 192 million firearms, of which 65 million were handguns.
(Unfortunately, the survey found that percentage was declining -- a trend we must work diligently to reverse.)
And John Lott has conclusively demonstrated, in his epochal book "More Guns, Less Crime," that whenever a state or county "allows" more law-abiding citizens to carry handguns, violent crime rates go down.
Nor do we lack for real world verification. Florida has a high rate of civilian gun ownership, but drivers of rental cars can be assumed to be unarmed, because for the most part they just got off an airliner where they were (unconstitutionally) barred from carrying their weapons. So while carjacking is a rare crime in Florida overall, it was, about a decade ago, a considerable danger for tourists driving rental cars. When the rental car companies removed their prominent "rob me" logo stickers from the cars and these drivers could no longer be told apart from Florida's well-armed general populace, the wave of tourist carjackings disappeared overnight.
New York City, Detroit, and Washington D.C. have virtually banned the carrying of firearms by law-abiding citizens. Their crime rates are huge.
Within recent decades, Australia banned many firearms, and England essentially banned them all. Violent crime rates have soared in both jurisdictions. In fact, law-abiding citizens of the English city of Manchester are now so terrorized by AK-wielding thugs that the London newspapers have taken to calling the town "Gunchester."
Instead of disarming off-duty cops so the police can continue to feel free to shoot anyone out of uniform who they see with a gun (especially if he's black), why not alter police training as follows?
"This is an armed nation. Twenty-five percent of your fellow 'civilians' own firearms, and have a God-given right to carry them around. Except for writing traffic tickets for revenue, they have just as much right to chase and apprehend a fleeing felon -- or to present a weapon in defense of themselves or others -- as you do. This includes black folks. Get used to it.
"So -- even though it may initially seem to make our jobs harder -- let's stop hassling people when we perceive they have guns. If a call comes in reporting a 'man with a gun,' let's ask whether the man is brandishing or threatening anyone, and otherwise advise the caller that being armed is not a crime.
"And particularly let's stop shooting people who draw their guns when they're being assaulted. Yes, pausing those extra few seconds may sometimes put your own life in danger. This is still a less dangerous job than hard-rock mining or fishing in Alaska, and you volunteered for it. You may resign at any time."
No, the off-duty Florida officer should not have fired his gun into the air to break up a scuffle. That's dumb. But with all due respect to the grieving Mrs. Young, no, the problem is not that Providence cops had trouble recognizing an off-duty fellow officer. The problem is that their first instinct when they saw a black man with a gun who was not obviously a police officer, was to shoot him.
The police chiefs should be urging more citizens to go armed so their men get used to it, not trying to turn us into a police state, which is defined as "a place where only the police carry guns."