RIP R2P – A Parable for our Times
In a small town, the town council gathered one day to discuss a series of violent crimes in which a number of innocent women and children had been killed. After much discussion, it was decided that the town’s police officer should be issued with a gun, but only under a strict set of rules: he could use the gun only in situations where a crime was being committed, where there was a clear and imminent risk of the deaths of innocent civilians, and when all other peaceful methods had been tried and there was no other option other than to use deadly force. Wisely, the council agreed to review their decision after three years to see if it was working. The town council hoped that the gun which the officer was now authorized to carry and use would deter criminals and make the town a safer and more peaceful place to live.
At the end of the three years, the council gathered to consider whether the arming of the police officer had actually succeeded in making the town safer and more peaceful. Looking closely at the record, they were dismayed to find that following an initial incident in which an armed intruder fired his gun in the direction of the approaching police officer, he failed to even enter the house of the next two home invasions, which tragically resulted in two families being killed in full view of the officer and watching neighbours. Needless to say, at the time, the council had come in for a public roasting by the editor of the local newspaper for providing the officer with a gun he failed to use when it appeared to be most needed! It was not an auspicious start to the new era.
The council found that the record of the next two years was similarly disappointing, mainly because it was discovered that the few occasions when the police officer had used the gun were when his own house or those of his family and close friends were threatened by criminals. A number of other prominent cases in the poorer parts of town were completely ignored, with tragic results. In a few other cases, he had fired wildly and unfortunately killed several of the civilians he was meant to be protecting. And in the most recent case, he had taken to firing the gun over the heads of the criminals in an apparent attempt to warn them not to do anything too serious, rather than going into the house to rescue the family being attacked. Disturbingly, it was found that in no single case could the use of force be considered a genuine last resort; instead, the officer usually grabbed his gun and charged in blazing with undue haste! In the end, the council agreed that the gun had made no difference at all to making the town safer or more peaceful, and no one could be sure if, when, or with what consequences the officer would intervene with the gun in dangerous situations.
At first, the council wondered if the problem lay with the character of the police officer, and whether a more honest and courageous person would be more responsible. So they fired the police officer and advertised for a replacement. After interviewing a long list of candidates, they hired an intelligent, stable, and mature officer with a perfect record of integrity. Sadly, at the end of the following three years they found a similar record of inconsistency, abject failures and numerous accidental civilian deaths. There were still no cases where the gun had been used judiciously to bring about a satisfactory conclusion in a situation where no other alternatives to force existed. Naturally, being a very wise council, they realized that the gun itself and the authority to use it, was bound to produce the same results, regardless of who the officer was. They also realised that putting more weapons and violence into an already-violent situation was more likely than not to simply make the situation worse.
In the end, realising their mistake, they quietly voted to withdraw the gun and revoked the officer’s right to use force. Instead, they required the officer to undertake a course in non-violence and conflict resolution techniques, commissioned a study to try and determine why the town had so much violent crime, passed severe restrictions on gun ownership, tried to address the social exclusion of the suburbs where most violent criminals came from and where most violent crime occurred, and worked hard to promote community cohesion and urban renewal. After three years, the town entered a period of genuine peace and stability, with far fewer violent incidents than ever before. Everyone liked the unarmed police officer who would regularly visit townsfolk for a cup of tea and a chat.
Sadly, the first police officer refused to accept the decision of the town council, bought his own gun on the black market and continued to shoot at people who came near his home or those of his friends. He was eventually killed in what was believed to be a revenge shooting. No one went to his funeral.