Electricity & Lust

Column: Do We Need a New Crash Course in Guns?

Posted in Column, Sam by Sam Unsted on November 16, 2007

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There exists an funny joke from Robin Williams. Hard to believe I know, especially post-his return as a creepy old sod. But yes, once, he was funny, a genuinely talented stand-up comedian coked off his balls and reeling off stories, one liners and impressions with skill, poise and mania blended to one. One joke I’ll highlight here is perhaps the only one to have become prescient for this short essay. It goes something along the lines of this.

Williams is talking about cops in New York, pre-Guiliani and inclusive of still-hefty amounts of corruption and mis-dealings. He does an impression of a cops which goes like this: Cops runs into building towards perp. Fires a full clip off. Shouts: “Freeze”.

It doesn’t come across in this format but I’m sure the picture has been gained. Gun-happy American cops who’ll shoot before they let you know the shooting gonna happen. The picture has cleaned up somewhat in New York since those jokes were made but this week, echoes of the past came back to haunt and raised further questions, along with a few other recent issues on both sides of the pond, over authority figures with guns.

Khiel Coppin, an eighteen-year old kids from Brooklyn with some alleged mental health problems, was shot by police after they mistook a hairbrush for a gun. Coppin had allegedly then refused to respond to calls for him to freeze and so okay, restraint may have been needed. But grasp and justify this: the police then fired twenty shots at Coppin, a particularly unluckly thirteen of which hit him. Twenty shots.

In the UK, a case with pronounced similarities has been dominated news since the original incident occured. The shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube Station on July 22 2005. The story has been constantly around for the past two and bit years but has now made itself into a representation of just how much authorities can fuck something up and then try to hide it. The original story had us all believing that while Menezes was not a terror suspect, the shooting had been simply a mistake caused by post-7/7 anxiety and poor orders. It looked like a balls up but it looked like one that could be forgiven. Over the course of the past three months or so, we’ve now found out that the force have buggered it up in more ways than we’d thought possible. That’s a whole other essay though. The point here comes further back in the story. For when ‘apprehended’ by officers at Stockwell station, Menezes was shot five times at point blank range in the head. Originally again, this seemed a fair thing to have done had they genuinely thought he was a terror suspect. If I’m on a tube and someone came one wielding a rucksack full of explosives, I’d want the guy dead as can he could possibly be. But if they were acting on poor information. If, as we’ve now seen, he wasn’t running away and vaulting the gates (the guy was calm enough to go and pick up a Metro), then how can anyone justify five shots to the head?

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So my question is: do guns and authorities need a refresher course in their usage. Guns should be the last possible tool used by police officers. I understand they need them and I won’t begrudge them their guns. They are the one group in the world who should have guns as they are there to protect us. On that point too, I wouldn’t accuse any of these people of not having the right path in mind. I’m sure that both killings at their base were made to protect innocent members of the public. But perhaps it’s just a case that they need to be shown what these guns actually do again. Is it a desensitised society? Is violence too commonplace? So much so, that even the police cannot tell when it’s use is valid?

Iraq and this ‘War on Terror’ have made violence and threat too common in modern society. Perhaps this is the cycle we are now acknowledging and trying to escape from. Things we knew were going on have started to bother us as the blind eye turns towards its target. Take Blackwater, the private-security firm in Iraq who’ve been found to have performed fourteen illegal shootings in the country out of the seventeen that occurred. Does this not leave anyone in a state of total shock? How on Earth are only fourteen illegal. These people are civilians. This is a group of hedge fund-managed private equity-backed mercenaries. Surely this is something that died out during the action-movie’s mid-80s heyday. These things don’t actually happen do they? But they do, and on some level I think we knew it. We knew that despite fighting a whole hunk of wars in their existence, that America really suck at it. And we knew that bad things were happening without us knowing and that seems fine until we They can’t do it. Wars just ain’t their thing when they’ve started it. Blackwater is just yet another instance of Iraq being fucked up which is hardly brain-busting stuff, but its leaking back home is disturbing and this trend needs to be addressed.

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