Monday, October 18, 2010

Hoplophobic Cops

This really happened to me, about two years ago, when I was living in the house on Catalina Drive, Phoenix.

This will take a little explanation: in that house the kitchen/dining-room area is cut off from the hallway not by a complete wall but by a waist-high counter that runs back to a doorway near the back kitchen wall. Anyone standing in the hallway could be seen over the counter by anyone at the front door or in the kitchen/dining-room. Anyone lying on the floor couldn't be. Got that? Okay.

I was busy with my email when I heard a howling, thumping disturbance out in the main part of the house. I got up and went out and saw, in the hallway, a strange woman fighting with one of my tenants. The woman had a knife and was hacking at the tenant, who had grabbed her from behind and was squirming to avoid the knife.

So I pulled out my gun (the little-bitty North American Arms .22 mini-revolver, so small you can cover it with one hand), pointed it at the woman and yelled: "Freeze!"

Probably because we were in a working-class neighborhood, where people have experience with such things, the woman promptly froze -- and then dropped to the floor. The tenant grabbed the knife out of her hand and got out of the way fast, setting the knife on the counter as she passed. The woman on the floor began to cry, but had the sense not to move. I kept my gun pointed at her and told the tenant to call the cops, which she did.

At that point the action stopped. Then tenant sat down in the kitchen and waited. The woman on the floor cried and waited. I "held the point" (i.e., kept my gun aimed at her) and waited. We all waited for the cops to show up, and it took them a good quarter-hour or a little over. Since I was holding the point with my arms fully extended, you can imagine that they began to get tired. I leaned against the nearest wall to brace my arms, but it didn't help much.

*Finally* the cops came to the front door and knocked, and the tenant hurried to let them in. They stopped at the door, looked around, saw me standing sideways to them aiming my gun at something they couldn't see down the hallway, and they said what cops always say when they see any armed civilian: "Police! Freeze! Drop your weapon!"

I wasn't about to let the woman have a chance to escape, so, *carefully not looking at the cops*, I replied: "Police, help! Come put your guns on this perp so I can take mine off."

The cops looked at each other as if they'd never heard of such a thing, tippy-toed a little closer, and shouted again: "Police! Freeze! Drop-your-weapon!"

Again, keeping my eyes on the woman, I called back: "Police, help! Come take charge of this perp."

Again, the cops exchanged glances and tippy-toed a little closer. Again, they gave their standard call, and again I answered. Step by step, "Police! Freeze!" by "Police, help!", they made their way close enough to the counter to look over it and see that, yes, I was holding my gun on a woman who was lying on the floor crying.

Finally one of them had the sense to come around the end of the counter and say: "It's all right, we've got her." I said: "Finally!", pulled up my gun (pointing it safely at the ceiling), and started to shove it back in its belt-holster.

"No-no-no!" snapped one of the other cops. "Don't put it away; give it to us."

What the hell, it was a cheap little thing; if the cops elected to steal it (which they usually do with citizens' guns), I could replace it easily, so I handed it toward the nearer cop. He jumped back, wailing: "No, don't point it at *me*!" -- though in fact, I wasn't. I dutifully pointed the muzzle back toward the ceiling and handed it toward him again, and this time he took it -- with such exaggerated care that you'd think I was handing him a grenade. He carried it away, fussing with it. I started rubbing my cramped arms and grumbling about having to hold the point for a good 15 minutes while I'd waited for them to show up.

While the first cop cuffed the woman (which seems to be another of their standard behaviors), I explained to a third cop what I'd heard, seen and done. I also showed him the knife -- which he looked at, pronounced "a cheap Chinese job", and then ignored.

As the first cop was frog-marching the woman outside, and the third was questioning the tenant, the second came up to me and shamefacedly asked me how to unload my gun. After an instant's astonishment, I told him. He still couldn't do it. I offered to unload the gun for him, but oh no, he wouldn't let me touch it again until it *was* unloaded. *Sigh* Impasse. Finally, I set my hands over his and showed him: "Take the knurled end of the rod under the barrel between your thumb and middle finger, then press the end of the rod firmly with your index finger, then pull the rod out. Now pull the hammer very slightly back, and push the cylinder out of the frame." It took three tries before he got it. The gun was now in three harmless pieces -- frame, cylinder and rod -- and he didn't seem to know what to do with it. I gave up on the whole business, went back into the computer room and resumed working on my email.

It took half an hour to straighten the whole mess out. The tenant chose not to press charges, the woman left her knife right where it was and departed, and the cops went back to their cars to make reports. One of them came up to me and handed back the pieces of my gun, and they all went away.

What did I conclude from all this? First, that the cops do *not* show up quickly, even when you tell them there are "weapons" involved. Second, even in a no-gun-control state like Arizona, the cops assume that any civilian with a gun is automatically the Bad Guy. Third, they don't seem to know what to do when the civilian has caught the Bad Guy and is holding him/her for them. Fourth, they're not as familiar with guns as they like to think. Fifth, that they won't steal any civilian's weapon if it's too cheap, too small or too complex for them.

The moral of the story is: if you catch a Bad Guy on your own hook, make sure you do it with a cheap and/or complex weapon that the cops won't want. Also, if you hold the perp for the cops, be sure to have a friend standing near who can explain -- fast and loudly -- that the person holding the weapon is the Good Guy. And of course don't point either the weapon or your eyes at the cops. It also helps to memorize the words: "Police, help! *He's* the perp; I'm the Good Guy!" -- because they certainly can't tell from looking.


Snoozepossum said...

Procedure Meets Wall does seem to throw some of them, neh? My driver's side window doesn't go down. If a cop stops me and wants the usual DL and reg, I can either open the door, or lower the driver's side rear window. This has failed to compute on a few occasions. I understand and agree with the whole "not wanting to get shot in the head on a routine stop" thing, but I had to do an eyeroll when one told me (after three times saying "The window is broken") "Okay, open the door, but keep your hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel!"

Tom Dickson-Hunt said...

Wow, that really is pathetic. I should imagine that this phenomenon is more common in city cops, who have less experience with the idea that the person with the gun is not automatically the bad guy.

Mark Horning said...

We get a LOT of cops imported from other areas out here. Most cops don't like guns and never even shoot except for their annual qualification.

I have always toyed around with carrying my Remington cap and ball revolver around as my open carry piece. It's black powder, .44 caliber, and the only way to unload it is to fire it. ;-)

Aya Katz said...

The take away lesson from this piece for me is: when performing a citizen's arrest, call in your own description to the police so they will know that the person with the gun is the one who called them.

Nathaniel said...

Hoplophobia? For a while I had that word confused with 'haptophobia', the fear of being touched. (Which the cop also displayed.) But OK, Wikipedia defines hoplophobia as the unhealthy fear of weapons.

But... 'unhealthy'? Wouldn't the _lack_ of fear of weapons be even less healthy? In fact, isn't the very purpose of weapons to induce fear? A unscary weapon is worthless. So why complain when a weapon has its designed effect? Really, the word 'hoplophobia' isn't a complaint; it's a boast.

Also... I couldn't help noticing how tight a script you had to follow. Call the cops, have a friend say who is who, don't look at the cops when they arrive, say such-and-such, point the gun at the ceiling, and on and on. My take-home lesson from this is that gun control is inevitable.

By gun control I don't just mean aiming straight, but also following a highly ritualized script. I'm not complaining about the necessary Kabuki; and it's better to control your own guns rather than have others control them for you; but I am saying that the control is not only of the gun, but also of the gun owner.

Weapons exert force upon their owners; and this is inevitable.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Nat. Yes, I've discovered that there really is a Zen of gun-handling. It starts with memorizing the basic safety rules so thoroughly that you fall into them without having to stop and think about them. It goes on through the odd fact that, in shooting-practice, you learn that to aim precisely you have to control your breathing and count your heartbeats; this inevitably puts you into a Zen calm, and in time you condition yourself to fall into that calm every time you pick up the gun.

What annoys me is having to add to this complex a whole ritual of dealing with the cops, especially since police-procedure ritual is so stupid, limited and inflexible. I mean, in a town like Phoenix, Arizona -- where everybody usually carries a gun and everybody else knows it -- even a cop who'd been imported from out of state should learn quickly about citizens' arrests. Certainly the local police procedure should have provision for this, seeing how often it happens.

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(

Leslie Fish said...

Hmmm, a clarification on "hoplophobia": the term can also mean "fear of the armed man", which all too many police, politicians and press pundits seem to suffer from nowadays. It seems to consist of assuming that whoever has a weapon is of course trying to murder *you*, on any occasion. This is distinctly insane.

An "unhealthy" fear of weapons is what those cops displayed: treating the gun as if it might explode, wanting it unloaded (not just rendered harmless by taking it away from whoever was holding it) even unto the point of asking the suspected person for help, even treating the gun -- an inanimate object -- as if it had a mind of its own, and that mind was Eeeeevil. This too is so obviously unrealistic as to be insane.

Of course the cops (and various knee-jerking civilians) don't come by this insanity by themselves. To quote the old song about a different sort of bigotry, "You have to be carefully taught". I hope nobody finds it odd that I want to put an end to such teachings.

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of something I've been thinking about for a while. That there should be a class everyone is required to take in high school taught by the police about how to interact with them. What things to do and what not to do.

One of the things that comes into my head is, "how to get handcuffed." hand cuffs when put on properly will hurt. the cops might push you around and handle you roughly. Teaching them that fighting with the police about it will only get you hurt worse. unless you think you can get loose, but that's a different sort of class.

A whole section on guns and the police would be nice. Not just for teaching people how to handle their guns so they don't get shot, but also to remind cops that not everyone with a gun needs to be shot. I’ve heard so many gun handling classes telling radically different things, it would be nice to have one source telling us how not to get shot. Also, if a shooting class was required for high school graduation, I bet the drop out rate for boys would fall.

Aya Katz said...

Doragoon, I think the last thing we need is another required class.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Aya. *Snerk* I don't think any class should be required -- except for graduation. If you don't want that piece of paper, nobody should force it on you.

--Leslie <;)))><

KateGladstone said...

Snoozepossum — Re:
""Okay, open the door, but keep your hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel!"

I had the bad luck to be reading this *just* before I'd planned to go to sleep. Reading about,mor even just having pass through my mind, a self-contradictory command (that the commanded persn mustn't ignore or׳ refuse) is pretty well guaranteed to keep me feeling rotten for the next few hours (waking or sleeping) until-and-unless I know just how the command's recipient successfully dealt with the situation. What did you do (beyond an eye-roll) to satisfy the cop who wanted you to keep both hands on the wheel while (I presume) obediently growing an instant third hand which to open the door? Was an eye-roll actually enough to satisfy him?

KateGladstone said...

"The take away lesson from this piece for me is: when performing a citizen's arrest, call in your own description to the police so they will know that the person with the gun is the one who called them."

But why would the cops choose to believe that infiormation just because they hear it in a phone-call —if they won't believe "I'm not the perp" when they hear that information _after_ they arrive?

Snoozepossum said...

@ Kate - After a couple seconds, I put my hands up, and asked him which one he wanted me to open the door with. He got the idea ;0)