Inaction on guns leaves cops in the firing line
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.
Salute to Ron Helus in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 8, 2018.