Sometimes you write something so good, it sticks with you. When you write something great, it sticks with everyone. In 1711, Alexander Pope struck literary gold in an essay when he wrote “only fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
I couldn’t help but think about Pope last week as the latest news from the Parkland school shootings started to pick up speed. We keep a television in the newsroom, ostensibly for national news. Scrolling across the screen on CNN the other day was the news that at least one Broward County Sheriff’s deputy, Scot Peterson failed to enter the high school while shooter Nikolas Cruz was in the midst of his terrible rampage. For years, gun advocates have insisted that “one good guy with a gun” can prevent things from getting out of hand. Scot Peterson was no angel, but there’s no question he was afraid.
I’m pretty sure I would’ve been afraid, too. I think most of us would’ve been. Being a cop is a tough job, it’s even tougher when you have to confront the possibility of laying your life on the line.
It’s easy to see things from Peterson’s point of view, the stakes were high and the odds were low. Outgunned and scared, he waited behind a pillar at the school. Celluloid cowboy John Wayne once wrote that “courage was being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
Maybe that’s why we celebrate our heroes and lift them up above the masses. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to rush in when the deck is stacked. Today marks the 21st anniversary of the North Hollywood Shootout, where police officers in Los Angeles squared off against a pair of heavily armed bank robbers sporting body armor. Spotted as they entered a Bank of America branch in North Hollywood, Larry Phillips, Jr. and Emil Mătăsăreanu were carrying several rifles, illegally modified to provide automatic fire.
Engaging the robbers as they left the bank, LAPD officers quickly realized their service pistols were inefficient against the body armor both robbers wore. Attempting to escape by laying down heavy suppressive fire the robbers fired nearly 1,100 rounds, with police firing more than 650 rounds on their own. In an attempt to even the odds, some police officers took AR-15 rifles from a nearby gun store.
Even so, Pope’s theory doesn’t add up, the police officers who responded to the North Hollywood shootout weren’t fools, they were highly trained, disciplined first responders who relied on their training to prevent a tragedy that day. Even in the midst of a street littered with shell casings no officer was killed during the shootout.
The president might want you to believe that “one good guy with a gun” could’ve prevented the massacre in Florida, but the truth is much murkier. Giving someone a gun and a job is one thing, trusting them to make the right moves when the chips are down is another.
On Monday, Trump insisted he would’ve charged into the school, even without a weapon, to attack Peterson for his failure to take control of the situation. It’s hard to imagine a guy with the president’s physique running anywhere, even harder when you consider he managed to avoid the draft due to bone spurs.
In America, armchair quarterbacking is as American as apple pie, it’s always easier to pick the right moves after the fact, but there’s no question Peterson failed to protect the students whose lives he was responsible for. It’s harder to find real courage, like the bravery LAPD officers displayed 21 years ago, refusing to stand down in the face of superior firepower. Real heroes rush in, even where angels fear to tread.
Contact David Dolmage