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An unhappy case

The Metropolitan Police Department will pay $89,000 to a man shot by police at his front door four years ago.

Which means — just to be clear — taxpayers will pay.

The department’s Committee on Fiscal Affairs approved a settlement this past week to settle a federal lawsuit filed by Austin Bryan after the June 2006 shooting at an apartment complex in the southwest valley.

The incident began when Mr. Bryan, then 53, got into an argument with a man selling Review-Journal subscriptions door to door. The salesman said Mr. Bryan confronted him, telling him solicitors weren’t allowed in the complex. Mr. Bryan then brandished a handgun. The salesman called police, who went to Mr. Bryan’s apartment and knocked on the door.

Mr. Bryan, who is disabled and lived with his 75-year-old mother, routinely answered the door with a handgun, according to his lawsuit.

He was on the phone with a police dispatcher, reporting the solicitor, when the officers arrived. He did not hear the officers identify themselves and assumed the solicitor had returned, according to his lawyer, Frank Cremin.

When Mr. Bryan answered the door with his gun in hand, one of the three officers at the door fired twice. The two bullets went through the door, broke apart and hit Bryan.

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Bryan lost the practical use of his left hand and can no longer walk without being hunched over.

This is a close call. Citizens have an individual, natural, civil and constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The “bear” part means they don’t have to be locked in the closet.

There have been home invasions in all our major urban areas. It follows there may be times when it’s reasonable to have a firearm in one’s possession when answering a knock at the door — presuming the weapon is out of sight, or at least pointed in a safe direction. This does not constitute a crime for which one deserves to be shot.

On the other hand, brandishing a firearm — waving or pointing it in a way that would make any reasonable person fear he’s about to be shot — constitutes the crime of assault. It can get you shot.

Further, it’s a rare police officer responding to a call of “man with gun” who doesn’t set himself on a hair trigger, knowing he may have only a fraction of a second to respond to a palpable threat to his life or his partner’s.

It seems reasonable to conclude Mr. Bryan’s handling of his firearm was not prudent.

The settlement means Metro acknowledges Mr. Bryan’s case might have found enough sympathy with a jury that it’s time to cut their losses — and ours.

The relatively small amount of the settlement means Mr. Bryan gets some compensation for his medical costs, but his side also acknowledges a jury might well have ended up siding with the cops.

An unhappy case, reasonably well-resolved.

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