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The terrible day

James Huberty wasn’t the first active shooter in American history, but by now we all know of his horribly up-close-and-personal homicidal rage in the San Ysidro McDonald’s Massacre 25 years ago.  Not only was it shocking to the psyche of the American public (and law enforcement), but it could also be said that the McDonald’s Massacre was the final nail in the coffin of the resistance to modernizing law enforcement.

Those who remember the bad old days of revolvers, no portables, and myriad other things we didn’t have also remember the resistance to innovative tools we take for granted today. I remember arguing with an armorer that with the growing threat posed by the modern assailants faced by law enforcement, we needed be carrying automatics. He felt modern cops weren’t smart enough or good enough to shoot automatics. That was 1980! The SLA Shootout, the Howard Johnson’s at New Orleans, the Texas Tower, none of these swayed those who opposed the modernization of our agencies.

Even the eventual increase risks — the Mariel Boat Lift of criminals from Cuba among others — didn’t have the effect that the McDonald’s Massacre did on the modernization movement. Maybe it’s because McDonald’s is a restaurant so emotionally linked to families.

Tragedies of this magnitude cause us to play mind games with ourselves. How would we have handled the call? What if we were the SWAT commander? What if we were in there off duty…with our family? How could we prevent these? What do I need to stop these terrible cruelties?

It was this specific human tendency to ask such questions — combined with the sense of familiarity and vulnerability that something as mundane as a family meal at a local McDonald’s could lead to the loss of so many innocents, so many children, so many families — which caused a ripple effect that eventually lead to so many positive changes in law enforcement.

This is not to say the job is even close to done, but if the average rookie today could ride along with a rookie twenty-five years ago they would feel so incredibly vulnerable and so incomprehensibly outgunned.

Often, it is a local loss, a fallen member of our own agency or one nearby that sparks the positive change, the desire to make our job safer and more efficient for the officers and the community. In 1984 the footage on our television screens enraged, horrified, and drove us all to want to be better officers, deputies, agents, troopers, whatever our agency or assignment. It was unique in its personal sense to us all and that give it such power and sense of immediacy.

You will read a few articles about this event and a few will even mention the fallen which we should take a moment to remember as well. They are the terrible sacrifice evil takes from us daily in usually in much smaller numbers, and their sheer numbers made the impact an even sharper psychic slap to the side of the head for us to wake up and rearm, retrain, relearn and remember.

If you are unaware of the details of the McDonald’s Massacre take time to read it today and think of innocents who fell. Reaffirm your desire to intervene between the children, the grandmothers, the mothers and the fathers, and the James Hubertys of world. I don’t know why evil exists or what motivates such men and frankly, don’t care. I just continue to imagine how I would stop the horror...

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