No Duty to Protect

"If I thought it would help, I would apologize."
— Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw, May 27, 2022

The May 24 massacre in Uvalde, Texas, outrages the conscience, though not for the facile and stupid reasons spewed by every prominent Democratic Party politician, half-witted newspaper columnist, and vapid television talking-head. 

Liberals and other simpering dunderheads make fetishes of objects, focusing on the tool rather than the tool’s misuser. “Nobody needs an AR-15,” goes the refrain, when need has nothing and right has everything to do with it. “But the tool is so easy to misuse and abuse!” comes the ovine rebuttal, when we know as a matter of fact the tool is used in a small fraction of violent crimes 

Unfortunately, it so happens that some of those crimes focus the attention of the entire nation. 

With every school shooting—covered prominently, though not commonplace as they may seem—comes a demand for surrender. And with each of these demands comes the refusal of the law-abiding citizen to forfeit his rights in the name of safety. For that safety, we now know—because we saw it with our own eyes—is subject to the timorous decisions of bureaucrats with guns and badges and terrible judgment. 

The real outrage is that the protectors—the “good guys with guns”—failed to protect. In fact, though they surely had the moral duty to save those 21 women and children, they did not have a legal or constitutional duty to do so, as the Supreme Court has said time and again. The police chose to hold back out of an abundance of caution—“officer safety” being the watchword. What’s worse, they prevented parents from entering the school at their own risk to rescue their own children.  

All of it appeared to be by the book. If it wasn’t, we’ll know eventually. 

Always view early reports with utmost skepticism because the story invariably changes. For example, in the initial hours following the killings on Tuesday, we heard the officer on duty at the school “engaged” with the shooter. That wasn’t true. In fact, the officer was off-campus when the shooting started. When he arrived, he “engaged” with the wrong man outside while the real suspect was in the building. 

Then reports began to emerge from parents who were on the scene. Videos appeared on YouTube and social media showing mothers and fathers begging the police to act. “Shoot him or something!” a woman’s voice can be heard yelling on one video. Then another man says, “They’re all just fucking parked outside, dude. They need to go in there.”

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday reported at least one parent defied the police perimeter and rescued her children.  

[Angeli Rose] Gomez, a farm supervisor . . . said she was one of numerous parents who began encouraging—first politely, and then with more urgency—police and other law enforcement to enter the school sooner. After a few minutes, she said, U.S. Marshals put her in handcuffs, telling her she was being arrested for intervening in an active investigation . . . 

Ms. Gomez said she convinced local Uvalde police officers whom she knew to persuade the marshals to set her free.

Ms. Gomez described the scene as frantic. She said she saw a father tackled and thrown to the ground by police and a third pepper-sprayed. Once freed from her cuffs, Ms. Gomez made her distance from the crowd, jumped the school fence, and ran inside to grab her two children. She sprinted out of the school with them.

 Angeli Rose Gomez did what any parent worth a damn would do for her kids. Police are different.  

A Failure of Judgment

 Friday was a turning point. On Friday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McGraw held a press conference that provided a glimpse of just how badly the police botched their response.  

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McGraw said the on-scene commander decided that the shooter was “a barricaded subject”—which, post-Columbine, is not the call to make. After the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado, police have been trained to respond quickly and without hesitation on the assumption that a person with a gun in a school is not there to take hostages. 

“Obviously, based upon the information we have, children in that classroom were at risk and it was in fact still an active shooter,” McGraw told reporters. “It was the wrong decision. Period.” 

The details are sickening. 

We learned that 19 officers were in the hall outside the classroom where the untrained gunman was slaughtering children. We learned 911 received dozens of calls from children trapped inside. We learned that officers and 911 dispatch operators heard the shots being fired.  

We learned that Pedro Arredondo, Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District’s chief of police and the man running the show, also would not allow the Border Patrol’s SWAT team to move in. We learned at least four members of that squad went in anyway. We’ll soon know if they will be disciplined for violating the incident commander’s orders.  

We also learned that Arredondo was elected to the Uvalde City Council earlier this month. As of this writing, Arredondo has not announced that he would be resigning his position and exiling himself into public anonymity and lifelong penance.  

Allergic to Risks

Police are in a no-win position. Risks are not rewarded. What appears to be rash action, dissected and scrutinized in hindsight, will be answered with discipline and occasionally life-destroying prosecution. Street cops thus become bureaucrats with guns, who report to other bureaucrats, who answer to lawyers whose sole job is to “mitigate risk.” 

Yet police officers in most states enjoy “qualified immunity” from prosecution under the rationale that their high-stress jobs will sometimes put them in the position to make split-second, life-or-death decisions that may go wrong.  

Many Republican lawmakers defend qualified immunity. For example, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) argued in an op-ed for National Review last year that “[q]ualified immunity is essential to effective and diligent policing. It shields good police officers from bankruptcy while still subjecting individual bad actors to personal financial repercussions.”  

As a practical matter, however, qualified immunity also shields police officers from the consequences of their by-the-book inaction. Grieving parents will be looking to sue the police, the school, the city—anyone and everyone—for the needless deaths of their children. They will likely receive generous settlements in lieu of protracted litigation given the high-profile nature of the case. But in ordinary cases, they would have a very difficult legal road ahead. 

After all, the officers in Uvalde who did nothing except “secure the perimeter” were merely following the orders of their commander. Insubordination—the intentional refusal to obey a lawful command—is cause for discipline. All cops know that failure to obey a command could cost them their careers.  

So they did nothing “wrong,” other than stand by as innocent women and children were slaughtered wantonly. Surely they know that. They’ll have to live with that reality for the rest of their lives. 

A Mind-Changing Event

If it’s true the Uvalde case proves there is no such thing as a “good guy with a gun,” as the sneering anti-gun Left and the smug NeverTrump “Right” tend to say, does that mean police as the only viable protectors of the vulnerable is also a myth? If so, perhaps the “defund-and-abolish” crowd is right. (Spoiler: They aren’t.) 

But if the protectors have “no duty to protect” a person from harm, as the courts have maintained, then we’re left with no choice but to protect ourselves. The Supreme Court has also characterized self-defense as a “natural, inherent right”—not that we needed the justices to say so in order for it to be true.  

So don’t be surprised when people take the next logical step and do just that, with or without the sanction of the law. (Which is one reason gun stores do brisk business after incidents such as this.) 

In a well-reasoned essay for American Greatness on Saturday, Kyle Shideler points out a mismatch between Americans’ expectations of their police forces and what the police actually do.  

“There are around 700,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the United States,” he writes. “As much as it may pain us to admit it, not all of them will be warriors, a word that is overused in certain circles but nevertheless remains apt. And, of course, police work requires many other interpersonal skills and training, some of which are 180-degree opposite from the psychological traits required to storm into a room alone against a determined and heavily armed gunman.” 

Shideler has a point, of course. But as I read his piece, I couldn’t help but think of the cops and the firemen who sacrificed themselves in the face of certain death on September 11, 2001, or the grim statistics about the dozens of officers who die every year in the line of duty as a result of felonious assaults.  

That just makes me angrier.  

For a certain cohort of Americans, I strongly suspect Uvalde will be a mind-changing milestone event. Already suspicious of law enforcement’s creeping politicization (especially the FBI), ordinary citizens will come to see the events of May 24 as strong evidence the police are not on the side of the law-abiding taxpayer. Certainly, the people of Uvalde—a small town—will never again look at their police with anything other than disgust and contempt. 

More Americans will come around to the view that the State is an antagonist. They will reflect with growing horror that, under the proper circumstances, their would-be “protectors” might be compelled to shoot them if they defied orders and rushed into the school building where their children were bleeding out on a classroom floor.  

For their own safety, of course. And it would be perfectly legal. 

In a well-functioning society, where public accountability still meant something and people had a healthy sense of honor, Pedro Arredondo would have resigned first thing Wednesday morning, and Uvalde’s school district and the town itself would scrap their police forces and start over from scratch.  

But we are not a well-functioning society and many people who should lose their jobs will instead go on to collect their pensions. Men and women of courage—people who would rush into a building to save innocent lives regardless of the risks to their own—are precisely the type of people our present regime seems to abhor. So we’re left with more bureaucracy, more risk aversion, more polarization, less trust in our institutions, and, in the end, considerably less freedom.

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About Ben Boychuk

Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness. He is a former weekly syndicated columnist with Tribune Media, and a veteran of several publications, including City Journal, Investor's Business Daily, and the Claremont Review of Books. He lives in California. Subscribe to his Substack newsletter, “Nice Things and Why You Can’t Have Them.”

Photo: UVALDE, TEXAS - MAY 24: Law enforcement officers speak together outside of Robb Elementary School following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. According to reports, 19 students and 2 adults were killed, with the gunman fatally shot by law enforcement. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

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