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Press hypocrisy? When an evil gun becomes acceptable

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This report has been updated:

Tuesday morning’s press coverage of Monday night’s shooting of a man by a Seattle police officer after reportedly waving a handgun around at a bus stop reveals either local media hypocrisy or the attainment of understanding about the modern semi-auto rifle used by one officer to bring down the suspect.

The Seattle Times simply reported that the officer shot the gun-waving man with a rifle, while KOMO, quoting officer Jeff Kappel, identifies the gun as a “patrol rifle.” As one Seattle Times reader noted with no small amount of sarcasm, “If this was a non-cop doing the shooting, the reporter would have made reference to the evil AR15 'assault rifle'; but since it is a cop…”

It is reminiscent of a scene in the great 1953 western “Shane” when hero Alan Ladd tells leading lady Jean Arthur, “A gun is a tool, no better no worse than any other tool, an axe, shovel or anything. A gun is only as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.” Some film buffs argue that both the film and the late Mr. Ladd were cheated out of Academy Awards that year, for best picture and best actor, respectively.

Using a rifle to shoot a man armed with a handgun isn’t “unfair,” it is smart tactically for several reasons. As Kappel told the reporter, the rifle is more accurate at a distance, thus reducing the odds of an innocent bystander being hit. This is possibly the only acceptable definition of "gun control." The .223-caliber bullet is also smaller and, despite a higher muzzle velocity than the .40-caliber pistol round Seattle cops use in their sidearms, it is less likely to over-penetrate, passing through the target and hitting someone else.

So far, nobody has come forward to insist that the officer should have simply shot the gun out of the suspect’s hand, which rarely happens outside of Hollywood. The suspect was taken to Harborview with a serious chest wound and subsequently died. Now it will fall to some friend or family member to say he was in the process of turning his life around.

But this is not so much about ballistics or theatrics as it is about semantics. The “patrol rifle” is essentially the same semi-auto rifle owned by millions of law-abiding citizens, in the same caliber. Somehow in the hands of a private citizen (not a “civilian” since police are civilian law enforcement and nothing more) it becomes an “assault rifle.”

It is not clear at this point why the suspect was allegedly waiving the gun around at a Sodo district bus stop. Seattle police confirmed this morning that onlookers had called 911 to report the man.

Meanwhile, yesterday in Olympia saw the first reading of House Bill 2529, a measure that would remove the sales tax from firearms and ammunition “to encourage the purchase within the borders of Washington state.” It makes sense that there should be no tax on the exercise of a constitutionally-protected fundamental individual civil right, and it would also follow a precedent set years ago that exempted gun safes from state sales tax.

The text of HB 2529 is simple and spans just over two pages.

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