Beneath the fold you’ll find a picture of me at Essex County College’s Public Safety Academy in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, using the Firearms Training Simulator (FATS) there. (Is that click bait or what?)
Tasks accomplished tonight at the Academy:
- I watched my friend and colleague Officer Bob Kish of the Bloomfield Police Department do his firearms certification, which he blew away, with a 93% rating (i.e., 56 out of 60 rounds he was required to fire under tightly timed conditions hit a randomly-appearing target at a distance of 1-25 yards; 80% is a passing score).
- I shot a bunch of bad guys in the FATS. They died.
- I learned that I am not a bad shot for a middle aged philosophy professor with a squint. I also learned that I am not a good shot for a police officer who has to operate in non-simulated circumstances.
- I thought about the philosophical implications of it all (see below).
- I mailed some letters.
Obviously, the sun was in my eyes. (Photo credit: Bob Kish.)
Provisional philosophical conclusions I have reached as a result of this experience:
- It is much harder to shoot things than to criticize people who shoot things.
- Unless you intend to practice regularly at a firing range, the idea of owning a gun for the sake of self-defense is probably a dangerous delusion, on par with the common delusion that it’s OK to drive after a few drinks (or a joint), or drive while you text.
- An ideal world would be one in which we put the gun nuts, the drunk drivers, and the text-drivers on a paved island (that’s impossible to escape), deprive them of law or law enforcement, and then have them kill one another off in the ultimate Darwinian cage match.
- A two-dimensional firearms training simulator gives vivid credence to James Gibson’s thesis that three-dimensional perceptual environments are as information rich as two- dimensional ones are information poor.
- The next person who makes fun of my flip phone is going to get shot.
Thanks to Lt. Sisco, Sgt. Zepeda, Officer Kish and the Bloomfield Police Department’s Community Policing Unit for making it happen.
Next week, I will be flying weaponized drones at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. Anything to avoid grading. Stay tuned.
Postscript, May 1, 2016: I’m not entirely sure what I think about this piece by Falguni Sheth, “Shoot First, Ask Later: Why the Concept of ‘Reasonable Fear’ is Anything But Reasonable,” in Salon. (I know Sheth slightly as a one-time participant in the California Roundtable on Philosophy and Race, which she organizes. By the way, they have a CFP out for their next conference.)
I’ll have to think about it. Much of what she says seems right to me, and much of it occupied my thoughts–without clear resolution–during the eight weeks that I spent at the Bloomfield Citizens Police Academy. But none of it tells us what the right standard should be for the use of lethal force, and none of it, to my mind, takes sufficiently seriously that unlike philosophy, police work involves an ever-present risk of lethal danger–much easier to criticize from the seminar room or online than on the street. (Consider the last shooting event in Bloomfield, in 2010. How many philosophers have the temperament or demeanor to acquit themselves under those conditions?)
I’m inclined to think that one can’t, with full credibility, criticize police officers’ rules of engagement until one undergoes some version of the firearms training that they undergo. I don’t mean that firearms training is a necessary condition of speaking out at all; I mean that one’s criticisms will tend to lack credibility unless one demonstrates the ability to face real, weaponized danger and handle it with demonstrable competence. Very few philosophers have that ability, but too many philosophers think that they can criticize those who have it while they lack it. There are, I think, many legitimate criticisms to be made of contemporary police work along precisely the lines that Sheth identifies. But our arguments will lack traction until we go down into the trenches with the cops themselves, and/or spend some time in firearms simulators, or in firing ranges, learning to do what cops do in the conditions under which they do them. Otherwise, our arguments are foredoomed to irrelevance, even if they turn out to be right. But more on this after I think things through.
By the way, I’m “graduating” Citizens Police Academy this week. It’s been a grueling eight weeks of petting police dogs, complaining about traffic conditions, hanging out with the SWAT team and the bomb squad, quizzing local health officials about hoarders and the water supply, deciphering gang graffiti, and shooting two-dimensional outlaws. If there’s one to join in your town, I highly recommend doing so. It absolutely beats grading (and prepping).
Postscript, May 4, 2016: From the “go figure” department: “As States Expand Gun Rights, the Police Object.”
There has long been a tension between the interests of law enforcement and the efforts to roll back gun regulations, but the conflicts are becoming more frequent as gun laws are expanded, particularly in states with permissive policies. Police officers in Maine and Texas have described coming across people displaying their weapons near schools and libraries, daring anyone to call the police and challenge their newly won rights.
Childish belligerence armed: the bulwark of all of our liberties. As for the chances that any of these yahoos know when to draw their weapons (and when not to), know when to shoot (and when not to), or can shoot straight, that’s anyone’s guess. Of course, when they do fire their weapons, no one will call them to account for the rounds they fire, as is routinely done with police officers who fire their service weapons. If for whatever reason, their actions end up being legal, that will be that–there won’t be a need for an accounting. When their actions are illegal, they’ll have every incentive to plead the Fifth, so that the accounting will be an uphill battle. How we’re collectively safer as a result is pretty unclear to me, and with all due respect to his many fans, John Lott’s research doesn’t assuage my fears.