Was Scot Peterson, the sheriff’s deputy who didn’t storm into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the midst of a mass shooting that claimed the lives of 17 teachers and students, a “coward,” as Donald Trump described him?
David Chipman, who, unlike Donald Trump, knows a thing or two about facing off against an armed gunman, says no—that Peterson is, instead, one of “the many victims of Parkland.” Chipman, a 25-year veteran of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), served on one of its Special Response Teams—the agency’s equivalent of SWAT—and is now a senior policy adviser to former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s campaign to curb gun violence. He says, “We rightfully applaud heroes. People who disregard their own personal safety for another. But it is a rare act. We hope that when the chips are down, we will exercise our duty, but you never know until that day comes. I’d like to say I would have rushed into a building with only a handgun to confront an active shooter armed with a military-style assault rifle, knowing I was outgunned, knowing that I would likely die, but I don’t know.”
Trump says of Parkland shooting: “I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon.” The Latest on his meeting with state governors is here: https://t.co/kRGXxmN9ZC
—AP Politics (@AP_Politics) February 26, 2018
By all accounts, Scot Peterson had been a model cop until he became a national disgrace. “His personnel record is filled with commendations,” reported the Sun-Sentinel. “Four years ago, he was named school resource officer of the year. A year ago, a supervisor nominated him for Parkland deputy of the year.” But like most of us, he had never faced a situation like he did on the day that Nikolas Cruz shot 33 of his former classmates, teachers, and coaches with an AR-15.
The criticism Peterson’s received is understandable. He took a risky job. Since the school shooting at Columbine, police officers have been trained to enter a building in such circumstances, even if it might cost them their lives.
But Chipman says that the reality is that, even though they undergo extensive training designed to inoculate them against natural human stress reactions, it’s not uncommon for soldiers to freeze up the first time they experience combat. It’s not a sign of cowardice. In most cases, those same troops perform well—or even heroically—after that first exposure to real-life combat. We can’t expect police officers to behave any differently.