To the Editor:
I’d like to thank Dennis Lovelace for providing a web reference to buttress his argument that the police have no constitutional obligation to protect citizens from gun violence. (Letters, the Times, Saturday, Jan. 26).
That web address led to the official transcript of a Supreme Court decision (Town of Castle Rock, Colo. v Jessica Gonzales) rendered in June 2005. The events that led to that case were tragic, but they illustrate one of the most frustrating truths in the gun safety debate: It is often impossible, even for the police and people closest to those who kill, to predict the actions of others.
Although Jessica Gonzales had a restraining order against her estranged husband, he was allowed visitation rights with his three daughters. He picked them up about 5 p.m. on June 22, 1999, without informing his wife (a violation of the order). After looking for them, Jessica told the police that they were missing and that she suspected Simon Gonzales of taking them.
She received a call from him, telling her he had them at an amusement park in Denver. She made several more calls to the police demanding that they find him and return her children, but, according to Castle Rock Police Chief Tony Lane (quoted in People magazine, April 11, 2005), when the police asked her if she thought her husband would hurt the children, Jessica said no.
At 3 the next morning, Simon Gonzales was killed by officers when he entered the Castle Rock police station and opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon. His three daughters were in the back of the truck he had parked outside; they had been shot to death by their father.
The question asked of the court was whether the police were obligated to act on the restraining order immediately. The majority opinion, which sided with the Town of Castle Rock, stated that the police have a long history of being free to use their discretion about how to pursue a complaint. The minority opinion pointed out that the language of domestic abuse and restraining order laws was written more strongly (”shall” to mean a mandate to act) because that long history of discretion often meant turning a blind eye to domestic violence.
It’s hard to know where on that line from prejudice to discretion the Castle Rock police fell, but they were not refusing to do their jobs. They sent officers to Jessica’s house and to her husband’s, and asked her to assess the physical risk to her children. With the benefit of hindsight, everyone involved may have made different choices, but the point is that we have far more access to weapons than to hindsight.
I don’t think I’m misguided in believing that my local police will protect me to the best of their ability, though Mr. Lovelace is right in pointing out that it takes time for them to arrive on the scene.
A lot of killing can take place before they get there, especially with semi-automatic weapons. We can agree on that.
However, while some believe we’d be safer if everyone started shooting in the interim, I believe we’d be safer if there were fewer guns to shoot.
Washington Street, Gloucester