San Ysidro CA 1984
Edmond OK, 1986
Ridgewood NJ 1991
Royal Oak MI 1991
Dearborn MI 1993
Dana Point CA 1993
Oklahoma City 1995
Dunblane Scotland 1996
Goleta CA 2006
Virginia Tech 2007
Fort Hood TX 2009
Tucson AZ 2011
Utoya Norway 2011
A tragic litany. More tragic because we have already forgotten some of the worst of them. More tragic because they have become routine. More tragic because it does not include the hundreds that die in gun violence every day. Yet more tragic because we stand immobile as the rate and the scale escalate.
Aurora CO 2012. The citizens of Aurora can take great pride in their own courage and in how their First Responders reacted in the face of this insanity. Of course, New York City grants nothing in courage to any other city. We have the most courageous and disciplined citizens. We are confident that we have the best trained, best led, most professional, and most heroic fire and police men and women in the world. We were not surprised to learn that the leader of Aurora's finest is one of ours.
Have you ever heard a more professional press briefing than was given by Aurora's Chief of Police, Dan Oates? It was complete, accurate, and measured. He said exactly what he intended to say. He knew with precision what he did not want to say and deflected questions on those things in a professional manner. Those of us who have been there understand that such a degree of professionalsim is the result of a lifetime of training, discipline and experience. We all got a little teary when he realized what a great job his team had done, that all the training had paid off.
Another professional briefing came from Lt. Andra Brown of the San Diego Police Department. She was called out of bed at dawn to run interference for the accused perpetrator's family. That briefing is not yet on YouTube but perhaps it will still show up. However, another of her interview is and it demonstrates that she is a pro.
Even the media has been restrained and professional. They have not hounded the families of the victims, or even of the perpetrator, with "How does it feel to …..?" While some of the questions put to the authorities were not going to get an answer, they were respectful and legitimate. They gave the professionals the opportunity to explain to an anxious public why they cannot be answered.
I hope that our response as a nation continues to be measured and proportionate. That is not to say "business as usual." Business as usual is not proportionate.
We need to take another look at gun control. We are law enforcement and security professionals; ours is the art of the possible. We do not allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Some place between where we stand and giving up any pretense at the Second Amendment, there has to be better place.
That place includes an assault weapon ban, a ban on large capacity magazines, and a tax and controls on the purchase of ammunition. Guns did not cause these events and no change in the law, which will no be more than marginally effective, is going to prevent them. Dunblane and Utoya tell us that. However, these are changes that stand on their own merit. They are measured and consistent with both the Rule of Law and civil liberties.
Our presidential candidates tell us that we should not act out of the anger and grief of the moment, that it is not timely. I agree that we should not act out of anger and grief. However, it is a year and a half since Tucson and two generations since Austin. I stand with Mayor Bloomberg who asks "If not now, when?"
Over the weekend a journalist pointed out that the Metropolis of Batman is what our cities will look like if we surrender the state's monopoly on the use of armed force. Batman is not a real hero. Real heroes do not wear masks; they wear little shields that say "Serve and Protect." Real heroes do not wear capes; they wear turn-out coats.
No, Batman is a thug, a vigilante. He has given up on the Rule of Law, on the idea of civil society. We pretend that he is on the side of the good guys, but we cannot allow individuals to administer their own brand of justice. At least one, probably most, of the perpetrators of events in that litany, were, at least part of the time, at least in their own sick heads, administering their own brand of justice.
From Robin Hood to Batman, fantasy is populated by vigilantes. It is part of our culture. It is motivated by our innate sense of justice and our frustration when an imperfect system fails to deliver it. It is motivated by our historic fear of tyranny. But we are grown-ups. Grown-ups do not act out their juvenile fantasies. We do not lionize those that do. Vigilanteism is the problem, not the solution,
As citizens we have to be worthy of our First Responders. We have to commit to the Rule of Law. We have to perfect government, not abandon it. Without surrendering our Liberties, we have to give up any claim to vigilante justice..
As law enforcement and security professionals we too have to commit to the Rule of Law. If we are to maintain the state's monopoly on the use of force, then as the agents of the state, we must use it conservatively and professionally. We must be civil. We have to emulate the best of our peers and follow the best of our leaders. We have to forswear arrogance, swagger, and intimidation. Only then will we be seen as professionals and be paid the big bucks.