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Police have charged Christopher L. Johnson for last Thursday’s murder of Wildlife Conservation Officer David L. Grove. On the face of it, there is one man and one man only responsible for Officer Grove’s death: Christopher Johnson. But the details surrounding the shooting are instructive, in terms of what went wrong. First, let’s take it from a police point-of-view, via . . .

Shortly before 10:30 p.m. Thursday, “the officer on patrol (Grove) witnessed a poaching incident with guns fired and a spotlight involved,” [Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Col. Frank] Pawlowski said. “He called immediately for assistance and the Cumberland Township Police Department got there in two minutes.”

The suspect fled and was eventually pulled over, according to court documents. Grove told Johnson to throw the keys out the truck’s window, according to the passenger that was in Johnson’s truck. The passenger, whose name is not being released, told police Johnson said he was not going back to jail.

Johnson and the passenger exited the vehicle. Grove told Johnson to walk backwards toward him and he asked Grove what this was about as he snapped handcuffs on his wrists. The passenger told police he heard three loud pops and as he fell to the ground, saw Johnson firing his handgun at Grove. Both men fell to the ground. Johnson got up, told his friend he had been shot and they fled without helping Grove, who was lying on the ground behind his cruiser, according to court documents.

“Officer Grove ordered Johnson and a passenger out of the vehicle. He ordered them to stay there and was waiting for his backup when a confrontation ensued. There was a ferocious exchange of gunfire and an apparent struggle around the car before the exchange of gunfire,” Pawlowski said at the press conference.

In retrospect, Officer Grove’s apprehension procedure was seriously flawed. I’m no cop, nor do I play one on the Internet, but I’ve never heard of a “walk backwards towards me” method of securing a suspect. Poachers are, by their nature, familiar with firearms. Add Johnson’s warning about his unwillingness to return to prison, and it seems clear that extreme caution was required.

Who’s to blame? Again, Johnson. (Final verdict subject to a fair trial.) That said, someone should take a closer look at Wildlife Officer’s training. Also, was Johnson released from prison too early? As for how a convicted felon ended-up with a .45, that’s certainly worth investigation. But should it be the central focus of this event? I don’t think so.

While it would be nice to find a way to prevent a dangerous criminal like Johnson from securing a firearm, that genie left the bottle since guns were invented. Who has more incentive to secure a firearm—or some other deadly weapon—than a criminal? Even if you ban ALL private gun ownership and confiscate all privately held weapons, as many nations have, the bad guys will get them.

Bad guys have guns. That’s why good guys have guns. Anyway, what has this debate got to do with Grove’s shooting, really? The Philadelphia Inquirer has the answer:

Friends and family of Grove, 31, are right to consider this a senseless shooting. After all, how could any poaching infraction be worth someone’s life? But Grove’s death had more to do with lax handgun rules and enforcement than any hunting dispute.

As a convicted felon barred from owning a firearm, Johnson would have had no business carrying the .45-caliber handgun that police say was used to kill Grove. In fact, police say the shooting may have started because Johnson knew that he faced possible jail time merely for being caught with an illegal gun.

Following that line of logic, Grove would be alive if we didn’t have laws against convicted felons owning guns. Obviously, the Inquirer didn’t mean it that way. But it shows you the editorial board’s lack of sensitivity to anything other than their pro-gun control agenda.

This crime shows the tide of illegal guns fuels crimes across the state – and not just in cities. Yet the National Rifle Association, and many Harrisburg lawmakers in its thrall, refuse to take simple steps toward better enforcement of gun trafficking laws.

A proposal supported by most Pennsylvanians would require reporting lost and stolen weapons as part of a strategy to curtail illegal gun sales by buyers who pose as fronts or so-called straw buyers. It has the support of law enforcement and mayors in dozens of cities and towns, but it has gone nowhere in Harrisburg.

Another gun-safety tactic would be to limit handgun buyers to one a month – once again, to cut down on illegal trafficking without infringing on anyone’s right to legally own a handgun.

Finally, the state needs to close the so-called Florida loophole that allows people to acquire out-of-state handgun licenses even after they have been turned down in Pennsylvania.

None of this would have prevented Officer Grove’s death. The paper’s willingness to pen a gun control polemic—in place of a condemnation of the crime or a testimonial to Grove’s life—is a sign of their desperation. Some might call it commitment to the cause. But not me.

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  1. Procedurally it does not sound like he made a mistake. The instruction for him to throw the keys outside of the vehicle, exit the vehicle and walk backwards is consistent with the procedure for making a felony traffic stop. While poaching may or may not be a felony, the wildlife officer certainly knew they had guns in the car and this is the way that they are taught to arrest suspects when conducting a stop like this. As someone who does not do this everyday, Officer Grove may have been tentative (who knows) or the suspect overly aggressive when he went to put the cuffs on the perp. Either way Christopher Johnson is a scumbag who deserves to die for his acts. We should all pray for Officer Grove's family and that Johnson will be punished accordingly.

  2. "Throw your keys out the window" and "walk backwards with your hands on your head" sounds like a felony traffic stop. However, the way I was taught was that you never, ever, do a felony stop alone. Always wait for backup.

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