In­ac­tion on guns leaves cops in the fir­ing line

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS -

Law en­force­ment of­fi­cers across the coun­try have of­fered a par­tial rem­edy to the con­ta­gion of mass killings that tor­ments the na­tion, the lat­est be­ing the slaugh­ter of 11 club-go­ers in Thou­sand Oaks, Cal­i­for­nia, on Wed­nes­day.

What is this ini­tia­tive by po­lice? In the ab­sence of ac­tion to sep­a­rate dis­turbed peo­ple from high-pow­ered weapons, of­fi­cers are rush­ing head­long into hor­rific vi­o­lence to save lives.

“With ev­ery sec­ond you don’t do that, the gun­man is go­ing to pull the trig­ger and some­body is go­ing to die,” says Peter Blair, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Ad­vanced Law En­force­ment Rapid Re­sponse Train­ing Cen­ter at Texas State Univer­sity.

And that’s just what Sher­iff ’s Sgt. Ron Helus, 54, did Wed­nes­day night at the Border­line Bar af­ter a trou­bled Ma­rine com­bat vet­eran opened fire us­ing a semi-au­to­matic, .45-cal­iber pis­tol fit­ted with a high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zine.

Helus and a Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol of­fi­cer didn’t wait for back-up. They ran to­ward the gun­fire. Helus — a hus­band, a father and months from re­tire­ment — was shot and killed. The gun­man, per­haps con­vinced that po­lice were clos­ing in, took his own life.

Thou­sand Oaks joins the sad litany of com­mu­ni­ties — Pitts­burgh; Santa Fe, Texas; Park­land, Flor­ida; Suther­land, Texas; and Las Ve­gas — that have been the scene of dou­ble-digit killing sprees in just over a year.

No mat­ter how many such mas­sacres oc­cur, Amer­i­cans must never be­come de­sen­si­tized to this wan­ton vi­o­lence, must never be will­ing to sigh, clean up the blood and move on.

Helus’s sac­ri­fice was not only a ran­dom act of full-mea­sure hero­ism — which it cer­tainly was — but was em­blem­atic of a broad change in po­lice tac­tics in re­sponse to mass killing.

Af­ter the 1999 Columbine High School mas­sacre, where 13 peo­ple were killed by two gun­men, po­lice agen­cies re­al­ized that their prac­tice of es­tab­lish­ing a perime­ter and wait­ing for SWAT teams to ar­rive was cost­ing lives.

Armed with semi-au­to­matic weapons such as as­sault-style ri­fles, gun­men can kill too many peo­ple too quickly. Agen­cies be­gan train­ing their of­fi­cers not to wait, but to en­ter shoot­ing scenes care­fully and quickly.

So when a gun­man armed with an as­sault-style ri­fle en­tered a sy­n­a­gogue Oct. 27 and killed 11 peo­ple, four of­fi­cers who tried to stop him were wounded. The gun­man even­tu­ally sur­ren­dered.

Politi­cians, par­tic­u­larly at the fed­eral level, could re­spond to these killings with com­mon-sense gun laws that es­tab­lish uni­ver­sal back­ground checks and ban as­sault-style ri­fles and high­ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines. (Cal­i­for­nia out­laws both, but both are read­ily avail­able in neigh­bor­ing states like Ne­vada.) But Congress re­mains par­a­lyzed when it comes to sen­si­bly lim­it­ing the na­tion’s grow­ing arse­nal of firearms and masskilling ac­ces­sories.

So the ram­pages con­tinue, and self­less po­lice of­fi­cers like Sgt. Ron Helus elect to move to­ward the gun­fire to limit the dy­ing, even if it means they might die them­selves.

MARK J. TER­RILL, AP

Salute to Ron Helus in Thou­sand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 8, 2018.

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