EDITORIAL: Line between privacy, safety is grey
Saturday's police raid can bring up interesting questions
New Brunswick and Rutgers police utilized to raid an off-campus house on the College Avenue campus this past Saturday, in response to information that led them to believe the residents were in possession of assault weapons. The situation turned out to be a false alarm, as police found two imitation firearms — one resembling an assault rifle and the other a hand gun. At this time, no charges have been filed against the residents of the house. The information, according to the press release, came from people who had attended a party at the house in question earlier that day. Presumably, these individuals had noticed the weapons and then notified the police out of concern for the safety of the community. And after what happened in Parkland, Florida last month, in addition to the many other horrendous cases of that sort, it is reasonable for people to be on-edge about the real possibility of gun violence happening to them. With that said, the situation that unfolded here at Rutgers sparks some important questions.
Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the phrase, “If you see something, say something,” has been quite prominent. It urges people to notify authorities if they witness a person acting suspiciously, in the hopes of saving lives. In that vein, at the end of the press release it is stated that, “The New Brunswick Police Department encourages anyone who sees something suspicious to report it to the police so that the information can be properly investigated.” What seems to be confusing, though, is what exactly counts as “suspicious,” and how effective this tactic is at actually preventing violence compared to simply inconveniencing law abiders as a result of false accusations. Maybe the students in possession of the imitation firearms are a bit old for playing with toy guns, but at what point does their doing so without harming others become anyone else’s business? When it comes to issues of gun violence and preventing it, there seems to be no fine line between two things we value greatly: our privacy and our safety.
In the wake of this nation’s gun violence and terrorism, the seemingly wide net of what counts as “reportable” may only increase a person's risk of being involved with the authorities — but on the same token, speaking up may just save a person’s life. It seems that generally it is better to be safe than sorry, and that inconvenience and a certain degree of lost privacy are worth potential lives saved. But in a sense, this level of paranoia could have actually cost people their lives as well. If one of the owners of the imitation firearms happened to have been holding one as the police entered the house, they could have easily been gunned down. In that case, an innocent student may have lost his or her life as a result of someone “seeing something.” With that said, such is the nature of owning a gun or a toy resembling one in this day and age — these things are not fun and games anymore.
Details of the situation that unfolded on Saturday are scarce, and how the police were able to obtain a warrant for what seems like simple hearsay based on the information we have been given is puzzling. But what needs more deliberation is the question of where the line is when it comes to reporting one’s suspicion to the police. For all the informants in Saturday’s case knew, those guns could have been perfectly, legally owned. This is not to say that legal ownership makes a gun any less likely to be involved in a mass shooting, but is it reasonable to file a report every time you see a gun inside of a person’s house? Probably not.
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