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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

What Turns A Tense Moment Into A Tragedy? The Guns

Tommy Tomlinson

You’ve probably seen it by now, unless you deliberately didn’t want to. The parking lot outside the Burger King. The young man, Danquirs Franklin, crouching next to a car. The police officer, Wende Kerl, shouting at him to drop his weapon. She’s aiming hers at him.

You know what happens next. Another young black man killed by a white police officer. Another controversy over what constitutes a legal shooting. Calls for the police to release more video. More blows to the old bruise that never heals.

But rewind the tape just a minute. Back up to just before everything goes bad, when it is just a tense moment between a cop and a suspect. Freeze that frame. Now make just one change to the picture.

Take out the guns.

Now what do you have? Still a tense moment, sure. Maybe, eventually, violent. But probably not fatal.

Guns are so easily available in our stores and on our streets that we’ve now come to expect them in every public moment of conflict. It’s commonplace in this country for somebody who’s upset about something, as Danquirs Franklin apparently was that morning when he went to Burger King, to react by pulling out a gun.

We can’t expect police to go without guns in that kind of world. But pulling out a gun shouldn’t always be Option One, either. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department offers crisis intervention training, which teaches officers ways to de-escalate high-tension situations. But they don’t require the training. Fewer than half the department’s patrol officers and sergeants have taken it. Officer Kerl hasn’t taken it.

So now go back to that moment at the Burger King. It’s the kind of situation where it’s so easy to make a terrible decision. In fact, it’s the kind of situation where we should expect people to make terrible decisions. Despite what you see in action movies, almost nobody in the real world is cool under pressure.

You’ve got fallible humans in a life-or-death moment. They are prone to make a mistake. But their weapons don’t. Where you aim, they fire.

Danquirs Franklin showed a gun, although it doesn’t appear he was preparing to shoot. Officer Wende Kerl saw the gun and killed him. We will spend a lot of time and heartache slowing that moment down, freezing the frames, talking about what both of them should have done in that moment. We will probably never fully know what was in their hearts and minds.

But we do know what they had in their hands.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.