November 2004

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At Town Hall, Thomas Sowell writes about the controversial shooting in Fallujah:

Why any such terrorists should be captured alive in the first place is a real question.

Because we’re the good guys. That’s what good guys do.

Later, Sowell writes:

The Times of London refers to a Marine “killing an unarmed man in cold blood.” If that was his purpose he could have opened fire when he entered the room[.]

That’s what I mean. Look, if we’re not going to be the good guys, if we’re not going to try to preserve some sense of justice or mercy, then the Marine should’ve done exactly that. Even better, why don’t we avoid the dangerous infantry actions and just burn the whole city of Fallujah from the air?

But he didn’t, and we don’t. Because we’re the good guys.

If you want a more practical reason, letting the enemy surrender discourages them from fighting to the death and, inevitably, taking a few of our guys with them. We want each enemy fighter to know that he can simply drop his weapons, raise the white flag, and the war will be over for him.

There will be plenty of time for killing people later. The idea of civilized behavior in wartime always erodes as the war drags on. By the end of World War II we were killing enemy civilians by the tens of thousands with napalm and nuclear fire.

For whatever it’s worth, the incident sounds like a routine combat misunderstanding. The Marine must have noticed that these men didn’t have weapons, but believing them to have been shooting at Marines only minutes before, he probably concluded they were hiding their weapons. No one at the time seemed to know this was a different group of enemy who had been disarmed much earlier by someone else. I’m just guessing, but once you think the enemy are hiding weapons, and you see one of the ones you thought was dead start to move, shooting probably seems like the smart move.

At worst, this was bad decision making under stress and uncertainty. That’s almost a definition of war.

David Kopel blogs about the new Illinois law that “prevents the conviction of a person for violating the handgun ban, if the person used the handgun for lawful self-defense on his property.”

This law strikes me as pretty silly: If I had a handgun in my home, I would be found guilty if I voluntarily let the police in for a search, or if a guest reports me to the police, or if a passerby reports seeing it through a window, or if I have a fire and the firemen discover it. But if I use the gun, my past possession of it is suddenly okay after all?

In some ways, this tracks with common police discretion. I know of several cases in which a homeowner used a not-quite-legal gun in Chicago and wasn’t prosecuted. This law is a sort of tacit permission to have a gun, as long as you aren’t blatent about it and don’t use it except in an emergency. So if I decide to break the law, I won’t be punished for using the gun, but I will be punished if I get unlucky and it’s discovered some other way. This is going to produce some strange incentives.

If they City of Chicago has some smart people running it, maybe they’ll realize that the best way to handle this is to start allowing handguns with registration.