“Suicide by cop” is a part of our everyday language now. Wikipedia says that is a fairly recent phenomenon, dating to the early 2000s, although it appeared in headlines as far back as the 1980s.
But it’s likely the act itself has existed for a long, long time. Desperate, suicidal people, sometimes aided by mood-altering substances, lack the nerve to kill themselves but want to goad police into killing them, instead.
Right now it is impossible to know for sure whether the shooting inside the West Valley City, Utah police headquarters Monday morning was an example of this. There are some strong signs, though.
The suspect, James Ramsey Kammeyer, attracted police attention once before, in 2012. Police said he “told officers at that time that he wanted to die suicide by cop.” His wife was leaving him and taking their children.
Monday he entered the police department lobby and asked the officer in charge there to step out from a protected area. Then he pulled a gun.
Which brings me to the question of the day. How did he get a gun?
News reports say Kammeyer pleaded guilty in 1998 “to sex abuse of a child, a second-degree felony…” Federal law prohibits anyone who has been convicted of a felony from possessing a firearm or ammunition. Utah law makes it illegal to possess a gun if you were convicted of any in a list of violent crimes, including child abuse.
It isn’t hard to think up possible answers to that question. He could have secured a gun in any number of ways in which background checks are either not required or easily avoided.
Depending on your point of view, this is either more evidence that gun control laws are useless and ineffective – desperate people with criminal intent will find ways to get guns no matter what the law says – or that what the nation needs is to close loopholes that allow people to buy guns without stricter checks.
I tend to believe it shows laws are ineffective, especially in a nation where firearms are so plentiful. But I would like to know how you feel.
Interestingly, police shot Kammeyer in the forearm. They didn’t kill him. That will make it possible to interrogate him and try him criminally.
The video below is of an interview with a man who perpetrated a mass shooting while a teenager. The situation isn’t completely analogous to what happened in West Valley City. The man in the film was a teenager who didn’t fully comprehend the consequences of what he was doing. Kammeyer is 39 years old.
The man in the video was, however, suicidal, and he had substance abuse problems.
And what he did demonstrates that attempts at “suicide by cop” often end up hurting other people.