We got a thousand points of light
For the homeless man.
We got a kinder, gentler,
Machine gun hand.
-Rockin in the Free World
A couple of weeks back, I heard something on the Neal Boortz Radio Show that intrigued me. He was discussing the Minimum Force Bill currently proposed in New York with a caller who was a former City of Atlanta Police Officer. Essentially, this bill would require cops to “shoot to maim” rather than “shoot to kill.” The bill is misguided because once the situation has escalated to the point where a police officer has to pull the trigger, lives are in danger, and the situation must be ended ASAP. Shooting a gun at a suspect is a high pressure situation and aiming at gunman’s shooting arm is a difficult proposition, especially when that gun is pointed at you.
What really interested me about the call was the conversation that followed. Neal asked the officer if he remembered back in the late 70′s when officers still used .38 revolvers as their service weapons and the Atlanta Commissioner of Public Safety at the time required the officers to use Wadcutter bullets as the service rounds in their weapons. The officer did, in fact, remember this and explained the significance of it, which I will get to in a minute, but first let’s frame the picture of the late 1970′s in the City of Atlanta.
From the March 22, 1976 issue of TIME Magazine
To many Atlantans it smacked of capricious cronyism when Maynard Jackson Jr., the city’s black mayor, appointed A. Reginald Eaves as commissioner of public safety in 1974. A blunt-spoken black lawyer whose chief qualification for the job appeared to be his friendship with Jackson, a college classmate, Eaves seemed totally unqualified to command the city’s 1,500-man police force, then struggling ineffectively against a crime surge that had made Atlanta one of the homicide capitals of the U.S. But today the top cop is being cheered more than he is being jeered—even by some of his harshest early critics. Says Hal Gulliver, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Constitution, which vehemently opposed his appointment: “Eaves must be doing something right.”
Last year violent personal crimes in Atlanta dropped 9.9%. Murders decreased from 248 to 185, burglaries dropped from 16,802 to 14,501, and armed robberies fell from 4,357 to 3,887. Overall, reported crime increased by only 3% in Atlanta last year, compared with an estimated national average increase of 11%. One big reason: Reg Eaves and his tough approach to “black on black” crime.
In Atlanta, which is 60% black, crime had followed a grimly familiar pattern. Most violence occurred in largely black areas, where the city’s largely white police force was least effective. Eaves, now 41, took on his $34,000-a-year job with a simple conviction: “Blacks suffer the most from crime, and if given a chance to relate to the police, they will help fight it.”
No Excuse. Eaves launched his campaign with characteristic directness: he demoted more than 100 acting sergeants and other commanders and installed his own team, promoting more than 30 blacks. He also increased recruit training from six weeks to 19 weeks, and required all cops to take “crisis intervention” classes to learn how to deal with domestic squabbles. Most important, he began spreading what might be called Eaves’ law through black high-crime areas: “No matter how poor you are, there is no excuse for knocking a lady in the head or stealing her purse.”
A. Reginald Eaves is the name we need to concentrate on here. The article continues…
His most conspicuous achievement has been to win the admiration of Atlanta blacks—sometimes with behavior that makes whites cringe. In one typical episode, notes TIME Correspondent Jack White, Eaves ordered an option-loaded car that cost more than the $3,900 the city usually allots for commissioners’ automobiles, then airily dismissed the subsequent howls: “I’m giving too much time and effort to this city to try to prove that I’m the good nigger. If I can’t ride in a little bit of comfort, to hell with it.” Eaves eventually had to pay the difference between the cost of the car and the city allowance, but his chutzpah had the desired effect. Says Black Councilman James Bond: “In my district, Eaves is a hero.”
This article accurately paints the picture of Reginald Eaves; seemingly effective, but not the shining bastion of ethics that one might hope for. In any case, Reggie decided to require all APD officers to use wadcutter ammo in their .38 caliber service pistols. Wadcutter (and its close relative Semi Wadcutter) rounds are essentially target practice bullets. They’re designed to shoot accurately and put a hole in a paper target without a lot of tearing.
You can see what sort of problem might arise when it’s time to shoot a perp with a target round. They’re underpowered and they tend to flatten upon impact without much penetration. This results in limited stopping power.
Reginald Eaves’s problem was that he had a lot of black-on-black crime, and an overwhelming majority of his officers were white, even with the promotions mentioned in the article above. Anytime violence escalated, and lethal force was used, there was the perceived problem of ”a white cop shooting another black man,” whether it was warranted or not. His solution to this problem was to have every officer use Wadcutter ammo in their service weapons, since they’d be less lethal. These bullets came to be known as “Reggie Rounds” or “Reggie Pellets.”
From a handgun forum post:
Same thing happened to a couple friends of mine on the Atlanta PD.
This was back in the day when those no-goods Maynard Jackson and Reginald Eaves were in charge. Not only did they make the patrolmen carry .38s, they had to use lead wadcutters loaded in a reverse position (in other words, target loads) because Eaves didn’t want to hurt the criminals – his and Maynard’s constituents, I guess.
The cops called these anemic loads “Reggie pellets.”
Anyhow, these two guys I knew answered a call on a “demented person” – they walk in the front door and this guy on crank or angel dust came howling down the stairs swinging an axe. They emptied their .38s into him and it didn’t even slow him down. One of them grabbed a chair and broke it over his head, the other one beat him with his MagnaLite until they managed to get the axe away from him. Meanwhile, backup arrived – they managed to subdue the guy enough to get the handcuffs on him, all administering wood shampoos with all their might. (This was before the days of Rodney King.) They stuffed the guy (bleeding heavily) into the back of a patrol car, and he kicked all the windows out (meanwhile screaming like a banshee.) They had to chain him to a gurney down at Grady while they tried to treat him.
All the officers involved went out and bought .45 Long Colts, but Reggie wouldn’t let them carry them. A lot of them carried them anyway.
That story might be slightly exaggerated, but I’ve heard similar ones from APD Officers that work the bar beat in my neighborhood. The law of unintended consequences definitely reared its ugly head when Reggie Rounds were mandated. The idea of a less-lethal bullet sounds awesome in theory, but what happens a cop actually needs to put down a suspect? You wind up with four cops emptying their guns into a perp just to knock him down. That’s 24 bullets. It doesn’t look real good when you open the newspaper the next day and the headline reads: Cops Shoot Suspect 24 Times in Confrontation on Confederate Ave. (See Sean Bell Case in New York City.)
The entire culmination of this post is this: guns are designed with one explicit purpose, and that purpose is to kill. Everyone knows cops carry guns and are authorized to use them if the situation warrants. If that isn’t deterrent enough, crippling an officer’s ability to quickly end a potentially deadly situation will have dire consequences. Cops are trained to shoot suspects in the torso because that’s widest target area of the body to hit, it also happens to be the most lethal. Requiring an officer to shoot a suspect in the arm holding the gun is the same as requiring the officer to use inferior ammo. The end result is innocent people get killed. Guns are made for killing quickly and efficiently. As the inimitable Buda so eloquently put it, “Guns are like condoms. You don’t buy condoms to show to your buddies.” Well said my friend. Well said.