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Gun policy in America: Cops speak out

From line officers to chiefs and sheriffs, cops are making their opinions known on issues related to the Second Amendment, gun control, and violence in the United States

Editor’s Note: What effect do you think the passage of the White House’s currently proposed legislation would have in improving police officer safety? Should citizens be required to complete a safety training class before being allowed to buy a gun? How would you respond to more restrictive gun laws? If you haven’t yet done so, you can still participate in the Law Enforcement Gun Policy Survey before we close it tomorrow. 

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve witnessed the debate raging about guns in America. It’s on TV, radio, the Internet, and yes, even in squad rooms.

A number of high-profile police officials — mostly elected Sheriffs — have made headlines by openly declaring that they won’t enforce any new gun laws they deem to be unconstitutional. Other police officials — mostly appointed Chiefs — have strongly condemned those statements.

According to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), more than 300 sheriffs and a dozen state sheriffs' associations “have vowed to uphold and defend the Constitution against Obama’s unconstitutional gun control measures.”

The CSPOA is the brainchild of Sheriff Richard Mack, the former Graham County (Ariz.) Sheriff who — alongside six other sheriffs from across the country — challenged the constitutionality of the Brady Bill (Mack and Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997)).

The United States Supreme Court sided with Mack, the 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the principle of state sovereignty.

“In America, we have a system of checks and balances, and the ultimate [in that] is the 10th Amendment and state sovereignty,” Mack told me in a recent interview.

“It’s up to local officials to enforce state sovereignty. The Federal government doesn’t care about state sovereignty — they trample on it all the time. It’s up to governors, state legislators, county commissioners, city council members, and local law enforcement especially the local sheriff” to take a stand on 10th Amendment issues.

Keeping the Oath
In addition to any potential Federal gun laws, state legislatures across the country are considering (and in some case have already passed ) more-restrictive gun laws. This legislation has caused tension between cops who see such laws from different perspectives.

Sheriff Mack believes that police officers have room to operate, even in circumstances where their orders and their oaths seem to be in conflict.

“Some of the things I did, in briefing, was to ask questions about what we were doing," he said. "For example, I’d ask, ‘Why are we doing DUI roadblocks?’ Getting a few DUI arrests isn’t more important than upholding and defending the Constitutional rights of the people we work for. We can still get DUI arrests without having to do roadblocks.”

“Most logical folks understand the primary cultural problem we face is the current culture of violence,” PoliceOne columnist Dick Fairburn recently told me. “While the incidence of violent crime is down sharply in the United States, the violence of those crimes is escalating at light speed.”

“Local courts haven’t been particularly consistent at enforcing current gun laws anyway,” another columnist, Lance Eldridge, said in a separate discussion. “So it will be interesting to see if there’s a change given the current environment.”

While we may see positive changes come in the aftermath of tragic mass-murder of innocent children and their teachers at Newtown Elementary School, the move toward more-restrictive gun control laws might be the most dangerous outcome.

In my opinion — and I believe in the opinions of many folks here on PoliceOne — we’d be better served by directing the discussion toward violence and violent offenders. 

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