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Washington report.

* Ask most any veteran police officer what citizens can do to prevent becoming a crime victim and they will almost always say the same thing: Buy a gun.

Try as they may, our police simply cannot be every place at once, nor can they protect every individual at any given time. In fact, the U.S. courts at all levels have ruled that police have no duty to individual citizens and cannot be sued for failing to protect them.

I first pointed this out in a column more than two years ago, where I detailed a case which happened right here in Washington, D.C. That case, Warrne et al. v. District of Columbia et al., was decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1981. In Warren, two women telephoned police when they heard an intruder in their home and were assured that help was on the way. A police cruiser circled the home without stopping, and another officer knocked on the door but left when no one answered.

The women were raped, robbed and assaulted repeatedly for the next 14 hours. They sued District police, saying they were negligent in not providing protection. But the court ruled that the department's obligation was "only to the general public--not to particular citizens."

Since I reported on that case, several more have arisen. The most recent one took place in January of this year in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In Schear v. Board of County Commissioners of Bernalillo County et al., a three-judge panel of the New Mexico Court of Appeals said the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department could not be held liable for failing to protect a woman who was being raped and tortured, even though deputies were notified that the attack was in progress.

According to the suit, the plaintiff was brutally raped and tortured in her home on February 16, 1982. Before the attacks, the sheriff's office received

an emergency telephone call from a male companion of the woman, who stated that an armed assailant had broken into the woman's home, assaulted them with a shotgun and had forced him to leave the premises. The sole response of the sheriff's department was to dial the woman's telephone number, but there was no answer because the assailant would not allow the woman to answer the phone. The woman's companion telephoned the sheriff's office a second time and was told that "no further action would be taken."

The woman sued the department, claiming the sheriff's office was negligent in not responding to criminal acts and failing to investigate the incident.

The appeals court ruled that a citizen's request for aid did not create a special duty under which police must provide assistance. The court reiterated the judicial principle that police have only a duty to the general public, not to specific individuals who are attacked by criminals.

In 1982, the New York Court of Appeals took the doctrine of general immunity for police one step further. In Shernov et al. v. New York Transit Authority et al., the state's highest court said the Transit Authority, a non-governmental common carrier, was not legally required to protect passengers or to provide additional police protection in places that are known as high-crime areas.

Two women who were assaulted in locals known for repeated criminal activity sued the Transit Authority, saying it should have added more police protection to the area. But the court ruled against them, saying, "The New York Transit Authority owes no duty to protect a person on its premises from assault by a third party, absent facts establishing a special relationship between the Authority and the person assaulted."

The reason behind these decisions is fairly obvious: money. If police or local governments could be sued each time a citizen became a victim of crime, our cities would be bankrupt in short order. The same principle would, of course, apply to other public safety services like fire departments.

True, no one wants to bankrupt a city. But where does that leave us in terms of personal protection?

The answer is simple: On our own.

And that is exactly why we must reject gun control. No matter what its form, no matter what type of gun restriction is being considered, every single one chips away at our basic right to self protection.

Here's an example: waiting periods. For years, gun control proponents have billed waiting periods as "moderate proposals" that "reasonable" persons should not oppose. After all, they argue, what is wrong with someone who wants to buy a handgun having to wait three, five or seven days to pick it up?

What's wrong is this: What if my home has been robbed or my life has been threatened? If I must comply with a waiting period, the authorities are telling me that I must wait a specified time not just to buy a gun but to exercise my right to defend my life and my family. The criminal coming in my window didn't wait three, five or seven days to commit robbery. Why should I have to wait to protect myself?

Another example: Laws establishing penalties for the unlicensed carrying of a handgun. These have been pushed by gun control groups as measures to cut street crime and violence. Someone carrying a pistol without a license must be a criminal, the argument goes, and he should be thrown in the slammer.

Did you ever try to get a license to carry a pistol? In most areas, they are almost impossible to come by. Usually you must demonstrate a need--meaning that you carry enormous sums of money or your life has been seriously threatened. And you will pay for the permit as well, sometimes as much as $500.

All the law has done is to punish you, the law-abiding citizen who fears for his life and wishes to carry a gun for protection. After all, you are the one who would apply for the permit. You are the one who would pay the required fee. You are the one who would go through the bureaucratic rigamarole, only to be turned down by the authorities. Criminals certainly are not going to do it.

And so you are left in a legal and moral dilemma. Do you abide by the law and place your life in jeopardy, or do you protect yourself and break the law?

I once asked a police officer that very question. His answer was very simple. "I'd rather be tried by twelve," he said, "than carried by six. Buy a gun."

And that's where I came in.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:gun control
Author:Andrews, Reid
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Article Type:column
Date:Jun 1, 1984
Previous Article:Parting shot.
Next Article:Gun-e-sack.

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