I’m always wary of claims that this or that new law or what have you could get someone killed, but in this instance I see it as only a matter of time. And it won’t necessarily be a police officer who is killed but rather some innocent citizen whom the law is intended to protect. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the law allows the use of force to “protect the person or a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force.” The trouble is, in the heat of such a moment, will anyone be able to make a distinction between police actions that are unlawful and those that are merely mistaken?
Incredibly (or perhaps not), the National Rifle Association lobbied for the law, arguing it was needed as a response to an Indiana Supreme Court ruling that held that a citizen had no right to resist an unlawful entry by police officers. That case arose from the arrest of a man who assaulted officers who had responded to a domestic-violence call. The bill’s author, Republican state Senator R. Michael Young, says there have been no cases in which suspects have shot police officers and then claimed justification under the new law.
No, not yet.
So now suppose Detective Jones of the Terre Haute Police Department finds himself on the hunt for some wanted and dangerous fugitive. And further suppose that Detective Jones receives information that places this fugitive at a certain residence. What will now happen if Detective Jones, despite his best intentions and all the careful planning one can hope to accomplish, barges into the wrong door in search of this fugitive? The homeowner, innocent of any crime and understandably startled, believes Detective Jones and his colleagues have entered unlawfully and arms himself so as to repel the invasion.
The police officers have mentally prepared themselves for a violent confrontation with the wanted fugitive whom they believe to be inside, so when the homeowner brandishes a weapon there is little time for calm discussion and admonishments along the lines of “Say now, gentlemen, don’t you think you’ve made some mistake here?” Someone is going to get shot, maybe a police officer, but almost certainly the innocent homeowner.
No one ever really wins a fight with the police, at least not for long. Even if our innocent homeowner manages to shoot a police officer or two and forces the others to retreat, it will only be a matter of time before the police muster additional firepower and resume their efforts, but now with even greater zeal. When a police officer has been shot, his colleagues are unlikely to be deterred by having it pointed out that they are at the wrong house. “Oh, you’re looking for 345 Lilac Circle? I’m afraid this is 347. Sorry about your friend there. Hope he’s up and around soon!”
The new law is truly an ass. Those responsible for it should realize it and take corrective action before something terrible happens. If they don’t, how awful will be the experience that opens their eyes?