A story coming from Cleveland, Ohio, this weekend serves as a gut-wrenching reminder of the reasons that those who staunchly support the Second Amendment must also advocate teaching gun safety to any child who intends to handle a weapon – no matter how small.
On Saturday afternoon, someone reported to Cleveland police that they had seen a young black boy waving a gun and pointing it at people in a local park. Tamir Rice, 12, had gone to the park to play with some friends. The caller indicated that it was possible that the weapon might be a fake, but that he had placed the call out of an abundance of precaution.
When police arrived on the scene, they witnessed a young boy lift a black handgun from a table and put it in his waistband. They approached the boy and directed him to put his hands up. Rice failed to comply with orders and instead reached to remove the weapon from his waistband. One of the officers opened fire, striking the boy in the stomach and torso.
Rice was taken to Metro Health Medical Center in Cleveland, where he died from his injuries the following morning.
Further investigation revealed that the gun Rice carried was an AirSoft pellet gun, but that Rice had removed the bright orange indicator that would distinguish it as a toy from a distance.
Were the police wrong to shoot? Well, hindsight is 20/20. And if they had known it was a pellet gun, they may not have fired. If they had thought Rice was simply attempting to show them that the gun was a toy, they may have held their fire.
Was the caller wrong to involve police? Maybe he should have approached the boy and asked if the gun was a toy. Maybe he should have simply taken the boy aside and discussed weapon safety.
But what about the boy? It is always tragic to see loss of life – especially young life, and especially when it was likely caused by a misunderstanding. But the fact is that even if both the caller and the police were in the wrong, so was the boy. It is clear from his actions both before and after the police arrived that he either has never been taught gun safety (i.e. You never ever point a weapon, even an unloaded weapon, at something you are not prepared to kill. And you always follow the directions of law enforcement.) or he chose to disregard it.
This story highlights the clashing of the two unfortunately dominant cultures in America: the fear of all guns, and a general disrespect for law enforcement. It should serve as a grim reminder of the culture we should be encouraging: respect for the law and an understanding of weapons etiquette and safety. Had that culture been observed by anyone involved in this incident, Tamir Rice would likely have survived his trip to the park.