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Are Cops Too Aggressive?

An American Handgunner reader from the Pacific Northwest writes, “I always read Massad Ayoob’s articles first and ‘Lessons From Kevin Davis’ (Ayoob Files, March/April 2014) about officer-involved shootings was no exception. Long before I took Ayoob’s LFI-1 class at the turn of the century, his writing was my window into the officer survival movement. I think he deserves some credit for the fact the number of officers killed by gunshot last year was the lowest since 1887. However, I’m concerned there may be a downside to this success story. I believe our police forces have become too aggressive, too militaristic and too free with their gunfire, always in the name of officer safety. I also note in the jurisdictions around me, officers who kill in questionable circumstances seem to have little to fear from prosecutors, grand juries or their superiors. I would like to know if Mas feels that the emphasis on officer survival has gone too far.”

The answer is, no, I don’t think it’s gone too far. Here’s why.


Model 15 with six .38 Special FBI loads and M&P 9 with three
times as many rounds, kinda symbolizes “progress, not
militarization” according to Mas.


Gun owners cherish their independence. We are a Free People. I was an armed citizen carrying a gun before I first pinned on a badge in 1972, and will carry one after I turn my current shield back in. I also get the cop on the street is the most visible embodiment of the community and the government he or she serves, and becomes a lightning rod for hostility created by the politicians who run those governments. Politicians the cop may not like or have voted for, either.

When I hear some call cops “militant, jack-booted thugs,” my reaction is much the same as when I hear firearms owners called “crazy gun nuts.” The warning signal flashes brightly someone is talking about something about which they don’t have a clue. Let’s look first at the currently popular meme of “the militarization of the police.”

News flash: Police in America have had a paramilitary structure since before our oldest living citizen was born. Look at the rank structure: Captains, lieutenants, sergeants and in some departments, corporals on one end and majors and a colonel or two on the other. Substitute “private” for “patrolman,” understand “trooper” can describe state police and some soldiers alike, and realize in some state police agencies, local headquarters are still called “barracks.”

When AR-15’s are issued to local patrol officers, cries arise of “militarization.” Excuse me, but the lever action repeater was the “assault rifle” of the 19th Century, and history shows cops got repeating rifles before the US Army did — and armed citizens had them before that. The modern uniforms? Please … when I was a kid in mid-20th century, “policemen” and “firemen” and “postmen” all worked in distinctive uniforms. Today, letter carriers get to wear shorts in warm weather, firefighters have more job-related work clothes, and cops — who have to do rough and dirty work — no longer wear leather-soled dress shoes or dress like postmen, only with badges and gun belts. Is there, like, a problem there? Yes, the military had semi-auto pistols before they were issued to cops, but the same was true of armed citizens. The point?


Armored vehicles like this one at Chattanooga PD have saved countless
innocent lives, and not just in barricade siege incidents.

Use Of Force

In the last few decades, science has been embraced in police work. Cops are now taught how quickly they can be murdered if they don’t take swift and decisive action. Those lessons have transferred directly from police to law-abiding armed citizens. As assaults against police have gone up, police casualties have gone down, because the cops were now taught to take appropriate action without waiting too long. Body armor and modern trauma treatment have saved countless cops from death, skewing the “who lives and who dies” statistics. So have handgun retention training and security holsters — some of us remember the days when one out of five slain officers were murdered with snatched police weapons.

A community gets a grant to buy a Lenco Bearcat or can acquire an MRAP for next to nothing, and we see protesters holding placards saying “We want Mayberry, not Fallujah.”

Hello? If their family needs to be rescued from heavily armed criminals holding them hostage, wouldn’t they want the rescuers to approach in armored vehicles? And consider these high-riding machines are used more often to rescue flood victims than hostages in some communities?

Daily, the law-abiding armed citizen is libeled by clueless do-gooders who don’t understand the realities of life and death and criminal violence. It saddens me to see some of those citizens apply the same clueless shibboleths — “What do you need high capacity guns for?” “He only had a knife.” “The gun he pointed at you didn’t turn out to be real, so you killed him for no good reason!” — against the police who serve them.

The cops and law-abiding armed citizens are, and have always been, natural allies in the eternal war against the criminals. So, having spent an adult lifetime with one foot in each of those worlds, I have to answer our reader, No, I don’t think America’s police forces “have become too aggressive, too militaristic and too free with their gunfire.”
By Massad Ayoob

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