In Salute to Lazarus Long: Or Why Tasers, Bean Bag Bullets, and Seatbelts Kill People

Robert Heinlein, writing in notably the best classical science fiction story (IMHO), Time Enough for Love and a book that all readers should devour, demonstrated in essence that “Nature has a set of rules. Violating nature’s rules leads to death. Generally swiftly and without appeal.”

Now I don’t have one of my many copies readily at hand, but the essence is what he authored (along with other significant notions including “always store beer in a dark place” and “get your first shot off quickly as this will startle your opponent long enough to make the 2nd shote count”. Excellent advice. Time Enough for Love is so full of great suggestions and observations about life that I ran an entire championship high school speech tournament for impromptu speaking just from this book’s chapters called Interludes. But I digress.

Recently, in my home town of Portland, Oregon, another tragic event unfolded between the local police and a citizen. My understanding is that the man was harassing children in a park. He ignored the police officer’s request to cooperate. Ultimately, the police officer, fired, what he believed to be, bean bag bullets at the man. The man was hit (the officer has good aim) but not with bean bags but with real shotgun pellets.

Additionally, I understand that the man is still hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries because the shotgun pellets hit his hip area. Of course his attorney is already quibbling over some permanent issues related to the pelleting. You will be able to infer my thoughts about this attorney before you finish this posting.

Police intending to fire certain “safe” style weapons but instead inadvertently firing a more lethal style weapon is neither unique (look up the unfortunate incident on BART over New Years a couple of years ago when instead of a taser the officer pulled his service weapon and in that case, the offender died) or all that rare. These types of mistakes will happen because we are human, and we are asking our police officers to be hybrids between law and order influencers and social psychologists in real time and in very very dangerous situations.

While exercising last weekend (stop laughing) with my brother, we had an excellent conversation on this topic. Now for those of you who have yet to have the pleasure of meeting my brother, first of all he is tall (while I am short) and he is an engineer (while I am not). Lets say that he has a more binary personality when it comes to matters of respect for authority, right and wrong, good and evil, etc. as engineers are very careful to measure what they say and do not recognize grey as a social policy.

Mike (my brother) always enjoyed my colleague’s (Ron) thought experiment borrowed from esteemed economists like Steven Landsburg that if our society was really serious about car accidents from tailgating, that the solution was to place a 10 inch steel spike in the middle of the steering wheel pointed at the drivers heart – thereby making impact fatal instead of placing “pillow top” airbags to cushion the blow.

In essence, I said, that Tasers, Bean Bag Bullets, and do-gooder social psychology by police costs lives and kill people. The reason is simply part of those natural laws associated with unintended consequences. By trying to be nice, gentle, and thoughtful, bad things sometimes happen. My solution is simple. Lets remove the the Tasers, the Bean Bag Bullets, and the Psuedo Psychology from the policing. Lets simply clarify that bad things will always happen when malcontents fail to understand the simplest of rules and obligations associated with a polite society.

I don’t know about you, (but I am certain about my brother and me), life was simple while growing up in Portland, Oregon during the 1960’s. Besides none of the wonderful technological gadgets available today, our black and white television (with tubes no less) received maybe five channels, including that one that carried those British dramas. And it wasn’t allowed to be on during meals or until the chores were finished. But more importantly, we (my brother and I) understood consequences of our actions. Misbehave and well, there would be swift punishment. Everything from the classic “wait until your father gets home” to “you lost your driving privileges for thirty days” were well understood prior to any bad actions that one of us considered. And that didn’t mean we didn’t screw things up, we simply understood that consequences.

Compare that to today when frankly the consequences aren’t as clear. When police carry both Tasers and Revolvers, criminals, malcontents, gang bangers, thugs, druggies, idiots, and the all of their related misbehaving cousins, do not understand the consequences. We (that is society by being nice, gentle, soft, considerate, etc.) have let these people down. We have failed to protect them by surrounding them and their bad behaviors with kindness.

It is simple. By promoting less lethal methods misbehaving people frequently fail to alter their behaviors and follow police instructions. We harm them because, sometimes, the unintended weapon is deployed and then the Community is up in arms (and lawyers begin to book their next vacation at taxpayer’s expense) simply because some idiot didn’t have the sense (brains, ability, wisdom, smarts, etc.) to follow the directions of the armed police officer.

I can count the times I have had a close personal conversation with a police officer on less then two hands. For example, on those very rare times a police officer turned on his lights, thereby indicating I should pull over safely, I have always pulled over. When they approached my vehicle, I was polite, respectful, truthful, humble, and followed all instructions. And accordingly, even though I have received a ticket or two since earning my driver’s license back in the Ford Administration (in fact, I have received a total of five citations with three of them being upheld; the last was in 1982). Since 1982, I have been pulled over twice and both times I was allowed to continue with either a request or a warning. Why do I receive such nice treatment? Well maybe, because I simply understand the consequences of bad behavior and I act accordingly.

So, I want to stop the pain associated when some idiot creates a scene, disrespects our police officers, continues to be a threat to themselves and/or the public, and then receive a bullet instead of bean bag. People should understand immediately that when a police officer says” halt”, they are to stop, cease, or else. The “or else” part means a bullet. Additionally, I no longer want to pay stupid sums of money to reward bad behaviors by such idiots. I mean, truthfully, if you follow the police officer’s instructions, they aren’t going fire that weapon (yes there is police brutality, but that is so rare in the real world relative to idiotic misbehaving public to not warrant much attention in the first place).

Police officers should simply carry guns (with powerful bullets), shoot straight, protect themselves, and misbehaving people should readily know that really bad things will happen to them if they don’t wise up and do as they are told. They (these people being directed by the police) will have their day in court, their right to defend their actions, their ability to clear their name. The system works (even if you aren’t convinced, of course, if you denied your opportunity to serve on a jury, then you should stop complaining about our criminal/civil justice system as you are part of the problem).

Manners are effectively minor morals. For our society to operate, we all have to learn how to interact without causing harm and/or issues with others as they seek to live out their lives. You can certainly disagree with me, my thoughts, my opinions, and even my politics. We can debate, protest, contest, and express our opposing viewpoints. We simply have to agree to contest each other with dignity, manners, and morals. Failure to follow these simple precepts should have consequences and if a police officer must intervene, and one of us fails to heed his or her request, there shouldn’t be any misunderstanding that a bad thing is imminent. Whereas today, it appears that people simply accept the notion that although the soft weapon might sting – it isn’t really harmful only to be surprised when bad things happen.

Although I have individual sympathies for people that are too messed up for what ever reason to recognize that they have placed themselves in harms way, I generally don’t lose any sleep over their loss. For example, the hiker that severed his arm to save his life after having a boulder trap him, isn’t a hero to me. He was an idiot that got lucky and didn’t die. He violated the general principles of hiking (don’t hike alone, leave a note, tell others where you are, stay on the trail, etc.) He got lucky. He kept his wits about him, and saved his life. Good for him. A better decision would have been to follow the safe hiking procedures, and even though the rock trapped him, probably keep an arm (but I guess not get to write a book or have a movie made about him.

As a society, we should stop complaining about individuals’ failures to accept responsibility for their actions (hey Congress and President Obama – are you reading any of this?) and start having people fully participate in their responsibilities. Newton understood that all actions have reactions. Ignore a cop’s request, suffer the consequences. We should stop pretending that the police are the evil doers and start forcing responsibilities where they exist. With the people that are lunatic enough to ignore the sound of a shotgun being loaded. That sound alone should stop one in their tracks. Instead of worrying about the criminal, lets start honoring our police, our ancestors, and our society by aligning the behaviors we desire while recognizing that playing nice and gentle with criminals fails frequently to deliver the results intended.

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