“An emergency call placed moments before Saturday’s shooting rampage in Colorado Springs has sparked intense debate on how police should respond to armed people in public given Colorado’s open carry law.,” denverpost.com reports. “Naomi Bettis told The Denver Post she called 911 after spotting her neighbor, 33-year-old Noah Harpham, armed with a rifle on the street. She says a dispatcher explained Colorado allows public handling of firearms. Harpham went on to kill three people.” So it’s looks like yes, Colorado’s open carry laws did delay the police response until there were reports of shots fired. The problem with this is . . .
Nothing. There is no problem.
The resolutely pro-SWATting Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and their ilk may be having a field day – open carry means we can’t know who’s a bad guy and who isn’t so we need to call EVERY TIME! – but there’s no way the Colorado police should dispatch a policeman every time someone calls to report a citizen lawfully exercising their right to bear arms in pubic.
If they did so, they would be guilty of violating a basic principle of American justice: innocent until proven guilty. The cops would be committing themselves to operating on a “pre-crime” basis. If the state can detain and interrogate someone engaged in a lawful activity merely on the suspicion that the lawful activity could lead to illegal activity, they could stop everyone coming out of a liquor store heading towards their car.
It’s sad that the Colorado Springs killer wasn’t intercepted before he pulled the trigger, but it would be a lot worse if we lived in a police state. Of course, the police are allowed to take in the totality of circumstances when deciding whether or not a person may be about to commit a crime. Someone who’s obviously casing a store for a robbery, for example. But the cops are not pre-cogs. They can’t know what they don’t know, and shouldn’t act unless they have a “reasonable suspicion.”
It’s a limitation of which they’re aware, thankfully. Sensibly enough, they try to obtain critical information before making a decision whether or not to deploy. Like this:
Police agencies statewide say the statute poses a difficult question of how to react when citizens call — frequently — to report an armed person in public. Is it an emergency or not?
“A lot of (our reaction) depends on information we obtain from the person calling in,” said Julie Brooks, spokeswoman for the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office. “The information we get from the caller is vitally important.” . . .
Denver-area law enforcement agencies say their response to armed people in public varies on the circumstances.
“Is this person exercising their rights or about to start a very serious situation in which someone is going to be killed?” said Jacki Kelley, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. “We just don’t know the difference.”
Kelley said deputies, for instance, respond with lights and sirens blaring when an open carry situation is reported outside a school. Recently, the sheriff’s office has twice fielded reports from alarmed citizens when someone had a gun in a movie theater.
In those situations, deputies made an emergency, immediate response.
“That can be sensitive because of the Aurora theater shooting,” Kelley said.
OK, this police direction can be taken too far. Lights and sirens? Shouldn’t that depend on how far the open carrier is from a school and other factors? There are laws about such things. But the fact remains: when an open carrier is acting within the law, the law has no obligation to investigate. Bad things can happen as a result, but worse things can happen if the police become proactive.