Local police officers are on edge

The shooting death of Erik Scott at the Costco store in Summerlin is, as with most such incidents, unique. The facts of the case, some of them still not clear or available to the public, make it difficult to generalize or to lump this incident into a category or trend.

Here's basically what we do know. Scott possessed a concealed weapons permit, and he was carrying two guns with him while he shopped in the store on Saturday. He caused a disturbance in the store that prompted employees to call the police.

When officers arrived, store employees ordered customers to evacuate the building. Three officers were waiting for Scott when he exited. They ordered him to drop to the ground. For whatever reason, Scott did not do so. Instead, some witnesses say he appeared to reach for one of his guns.

All three officers shot the 39-year-old Las Vegan.

Scott was a military veteran. Friends told reporters that he was a great guy and upstanding citizen, and they insist the officers overreacted. There's certainly no reason to dispute these assessments of Scott's character, but they don't explain why he placed himself in such a dangerous situation last weekend.

Based on what we know, the officers involved in the shooting likely will be cleared of any wrongdoing. There is little evidence so far to suggest they should have done anything differently.

But while this is a unique case, I think there's at least one lesson to be learned from it and other recent incidents.

The city is a dangerous place. Bad things happen in urban and suburban neighborhoods alike. This has been true for a very long time. But the city has become even more dangerous for police officers. Bad guys today seem less intimidated by officers and more likely to act violently against them.

As a result, officers are edgier than ever before. Their first priority is to go home to their families at the end of the work day -- a reasonable expectation. And so, in light of the increasing brazenness of criminals, officers are intent on being prepared to deal with potential aggressors.

Metro reports there are 28,536 people in Clark County who have concealed weapons permits allowing them to carry around firearms. These individuals have undergone a background check and a training program. As a result, they're well versed in the rules they must follow, including what to do if they are confronted by police.

It would appear that Erik Scott either didn't remember the training he received, or for some reason purposely ignored it. But regardless of his behavior, I think the result ought to give other concealed weapons carriers pause.

Most people with concealed weapons permits are law-abiding citizens, probably a higher percentage than those of us who don't have them. But in the eyes of nervous police officers, gun-toters are subjects of interest and concern. And who could blame the police for being extra-cautious?

I don't have a concealed weapons permit. Heck, I don't even have a gun. But if I did have a permit, I'd be thinking twice these days about carrying a gun in places such as a suburban warehouse store where it's more likely to cause a stir than to protect you.

The bottom line is that if Erik Scott had not carried a gun into the Summerlin Costco last weekend, he would not be dead today. Police might have detained and questioned him, and they might even have arrested him based on whatever happened in the store. But he wouldn't have been shot to death.

Let's be clear: I'm not arguing for stricter gun control laws, or for elimination of concealed weapons permits. The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken twice in recent years on what the Second Amendment allows, and I don't take issue with its rulings.

But I am saying that if you legally carry a concealed weapon in Las Vegas, you might want to evaluate your habits. For good reasons, local police are unusually anxious these days about the potential threats around them, and you don't want to find yourself on the wrong end of a misunderstanding.

On a related note, local police are increasingly finding themselves in situations where they're being forced to shoot individuals who want to die. This is known as "suicide by cop." We may never know if Erik Scott had this in mind in front of the Costco store, but we have a pretty good idea that other recent police shootings have been suicide-related.

It's difficult to imagine a more cowardly act. These suicidal individuals don't have the guts to do it themselves, so they put themselves in a position where someone else -- a police officer -- does it for them. Not only is this horrible for the victim's family, but it is traumatizing for the officer and his family.

Most officers don't want to shoot anybody. They'd be perfectly happy retiring from a 30-year career without ever firing their weapons at anything except a target. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening these days are getting worse.

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@reviewjournal.com) is the Review-Journal's director of community publications. His column appears Friday. He has a relative who is a Metro police officer.