Sowell on the Ferguson “Bullet Counters”

Thomas Sowell opens his recent article about the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, by pointing out that most of us “were not there, and do not know what happened when Michael Brown was shot.” Sowell then accuses governor Jay Nixon of “poisoning the jury pool” by calling for a “vigorous prosecution” prior to a discovery of the facts. I’ve made similar points in my articles about conflicting eye witness accounts and about the governor’s remarks.

Then Sowell addresses the claim that the mere fact that the officer in question shot Brown multiple times is proof that he did something wrong. It is not. Of course, if Brown was trying to surrender at the time the shots were fired, then the officer was wrong to fire even a single shot. But if Brown was charging the officer—accounts vary on this point—then the officer may well have been justified in firing multiple shots. Sowell writes, “Since the only justifiable reason for shooting in the first place is self-protection, when should you stop shooting? Obviously when there is no more danger. But there is no magic number of shots that will tell you when you are out of danger.”

People who get their firearms training from the movies or from television may mistakenly believe that a single bullet magically stops an attacker, perhaps even knocking him across the room. In the real world, attackers sometimes keep coming even after taking multiple rounds. Many factors are relevant, including the size of the attacker, his mental state, the placement of the shots, and the type of gun and ammunition involved.

I am not saying I know whether Brown was charging the officer. I do not. I am merely saying, as Sowell points out, that the mere fact that the officer shot Brown multiple times is not, by itself, reason to condemn the officer.