Editor’s note: Michael Fanone, a former Washington, D.C. police officer, is the author of the memoir:Hold the Line: One Cop’s Rise and Battle for the Soul of America.He is a law enforcement analyst for CNN, a life member of the National Rifle Association, and an avid hunter and sports shooter. The opinions expressed here are his own. Read more opinions on CNN.
A friend of mine recently asked me about last week’s mass shooting in Louisville, Kentucky, one of As of mid-April, more than 160 mass shootings had taken place in that country. The one where a guy in his 20s bought Semi-automatic rifle type AR-15 equipped with a magazine capable of delivering 30 rounds in seconds. Weapons similar to the ones we use to send our troops abroad to kill.
The shooter acquired this devastating combat weap*n just a few days before place of work and unleashed his fury in the form of .223 caliber bullets that pierced the bodies of his targets and likely the walls behind them. One of the victims was a 26-year-old rookie police officer named Nicholas Wilt. still in critical condition after being shot in the head in response to gunfire. Headshot I run to the fire.
This brings me back to the question my friend asked. “It seems so unusual to me to send a child who has not attended the academy for just a few days into the most excruciating and difficult police situation imaginable.”
My answer? “That’s work.”
Policeman is a profession that is mainly acquired through experience. This is how I approached it during my 20 year career as a police officer. My instructors at the academy didn’t have the opportunity to prepare me for every situation I faced. Facing these sometimes harrowing experiences at work made it happen.
In the course of my daily work, I became familiar with the police tactics that I used to deal with every incident that I encountered. I studied the policies and procedures, rules and guidelines that I used to carry out my duties.
In the past few days, we have felt grief to learn that Wilt was seriously injured in the line of duty while trying to save innocent lives. And just a few weeks ago, we also saw what an American police officer can do if he has the right training, the right equipment and, most importantly, the right mindset.
Last month, at a school in Tennessee, officers responded to a shooting that claimed the lives of teachers and their young students. They entered immediately, without concern for their own safety, and shot the assailant. This is work.
As with Louisville and Tennessee, men and women, like us, are being asked to put personal safety aside in order to maintain order in our “civilized society.” I will never say that the police are perfect and that our criminal justice system needs no reform, but I will say that the actions of these brave officers are the rule, not the exception.
As a police officer, I have witnessed countless acts of bravery and selflessness by my colleagues. I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I have seen them betray their vows. It is our duty to provide these officers with the best possible training and to enable them to train frequently. Frequency develops muscle memory. And when you’re asked to make tough decisions in seconds, muscle memory can save an officer’s life or let him save yours.
The police also deserve modern protective gear. The work comes with inevitable risks, but to the extent that we can keep them safe, we are indebted to them.
Too many times towards the end of my career, I heard politicians, media experts, and even my department heads prioritize optics over officer safety. The police need heavy weap*nry, which some people criticize as excessive. Yes, armored cars look intimidating, but they are just bulletproof vehicles to keep the cops safe.
Finally, we owe these officers less chance of having to deal with firearms wielded by criminals or people suffering from mental illness. We need to require background checks when transferring all firearms to the United States. Background checks are not required by federal law when a gun is given as a gift, but it should be. As a gun owner who plans to one day pass on his firearms to his children, I will gladly pay a nominal fee and bear the slight inconvenience of visiting your local licensed federal firearms dealer to complete this transaction.
In fact, every transfer of firearms in this country must begin with a background check. It only takes a few minutes and the commission is nominal. This is a minor inconvenience that all gun buyers must bear if it means helping to keep our fellow Americans safe.
We all have to give a little to improve our country. This is called a compromise. Red flag laws aren’t perfect, but they work. We must accept them, not write them off.
The average gun owner will never convince me that he needs an AR-15. You want one because you want one. That’s all. It’s time for Americans to start putting their public safety ahead of their recreational needs. There are many firearm platforms available that serve the same purpose and can be used to achieve the same goal.
Thinking of Officer Wilt, I remembered my own experience as a rookie cop in the inner city.
By the time I was 25, I had seen firsthand the consequences of gun violence. Countless shooting scenes in which the bodies of men, women and children were torn apart by bullets. I buried several colleagues, including mine former partner James McBridewho died during a training event. Listening to James’ End of Watch call was one of the most emotional moments of my life.
In my two decades of police service, I have seen the body of an infant killed by the child’s father while under the influence of phencyclidine. I fought for my life and the lives of my colleagues, and I looked down the barrel of a gun wielded by a young teenager.
This is work, and this is what is required of these officers. Every single day.