Police outside Pulse could wait no longer. No choice. The gunman inside with his terrified hostages was muttering threats over his cellphone that cops felt meant an “imminent loss of life.”
“So that’s why I made the decision to make the entry,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said.
Within moments, an earthmover had bashed through a back wall and a police SWAT squad was engaged in a firefight with Omar Mateen. Scores of rounds were fired. Mateen died, as the cliche goes, in a hail of bullets.
We don’t yet know, as investigators analyze the most gruesome crime scene in Florida history, just how many of the 49 dead and 53 wounded were actually shot by Mateen. That won’t lessen his culpability. Mateen will remain the lone killer, the only person who deserves blame. But there’s a wretched possibility, maybe even a probability, that some victims were struck by so-called friendly fire from police weapons.
Mina acknowledged as much in a news conference the following day. And surely some of the cowering innocents trapped inside the club would have been vulnerable to police bullets during the smoke, chaos and confusion of a desperate nighttime firefight, though the officers were highly trained marksmen.
Norman Casiano, 26, who was among those who had been wounded by Mateen, told Good Morning America he was very nearly shot again that morning by police officers as he tried to escape the nightclub. “I poked my head out and it’s dark so the police didn’t know what was going on and they fired,” Casiano said. “I started screaming and yelling, ‘I’m a victim. I’m a victim.’”
Friendly fire casualties are among the awful realities of police shootings. They happen often enough in police operations that legislators might want to reconsider before they surrender to NRA’s theory that encouraging civilians to carry firearms in areas now designated “gun-free zones,” like nightclubs and college campuses -- “one good man with a gun” -- would protect society from random killers.
The 2011 Memorial Day shooting on Miami Beach offered another cautionary tale. Along a well-lit street, a dozen officers pulled their weapons and opened fire at a fleeing car driven by Raymond Herisse. They fired 124 shots at his Hyundai Sonata, killing Herisse and disabling his car. But at least 34 shots missed the car and driver. Four innocent pedestrians were wounded.
In May, a Denver SWAT team officer was seriously wounded by friendly fire. In April, Las Vegas officers inadvertently killed one of their own police dogs. In March, an undercover narcotics cops in Prince George’s County, Maryland, was killed during an operation by one of his fellow police officers. That was just week after a New York detective was wounded by another officer during a similar drug raid.
One good man with a gun proved ineffective against one bad man with an assault rifle.
Friendly fire incidents occur often enough during planned and coordinated police operations that they would seem to undermine gun activists’ claims that a cadre of untrained armed civilians would make us safer in dangerous and stressful situations. Donald Trump reprised that old NRA line after the Orlando mass murder, claiming, “If you had some guns in that club the night that this took place, if you had guns on the other side, you wouldn’t have had the tragedy that you had.”
Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, told the Tallahassee Democrat that the Orlando mass murder demonstrated the need to pass legislation that would allow concealed weapons on college campuses and other gun-free zones. Except, most confrontations at nightclubs or college fraternity parties don’t involved homicidal rampages. They escalate out of alcohol-fueled petty disputes, that, with guns handy, could turn deadly. The notion that untrained armed citizens might draw their weapons and intervene in violent incidents in a dark and crowded bar or nightclub seems fraught with likely unintended consequences. Including friendly fire casualties.
Nor did the Orlando nightclub incident support the NRA’s theory that “one good man with a gun” will counteract an armed lunatic. In Orlando Sunday morning, one good man with a gun, an armed off-duty police officer, couldn’t stop one bad man with a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle. Hard to imagine an untrained civilian with a pistol would have been more effective.
Plenty of armed civilians, perhaps not the kind envisioned by the gun lobby, have already been testing the NRA premise in America’s inner city neighborhoods. Gun-packing gangbangers, probably about as firearm proficient under fire as the NRA’s imagined cadre of vigilantes, have accumulated a frightful record of killing and maiming unintended victims and unwitting passersby. On Wednesday, in downtown Oakland, California, a teenage girl was killed and three others wounded when they were caught in a crossfire. Apparently, neither of the two gunmen intent on killing one another after a dispute over a dice game was wounded in the shootout.
Miami-Dade has its own long list of unintended victims caught in gang shootings, including 6-year-old King Carter, who was killed by a wayward bullet in February.
I’m not sure how we fix America’s gun violence problem, but I’m pretty sure the solution doesn’t entail more gunslingers in nightclubs and frat houses.