Last week I penned a column on police violence, recent violence against police and how the Blues Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter movements both have value. I also noted that both should be in favor of stronger gun control laws. The reaction was incredible.
Commenters unanimously agreed with my suggestion—in a very thoughtful and respectful manner—that police departments and their respective unions could affect meaningful change in the wake of recent mass shootings by taking on the NRA and advocating for better mental health services.
Eh, just kidding.
In fact, very few commenters seemed interested in discussing how police could take the lead on gun control. Even fewer commenters were moved by the simple point that preventing the public from accessing high-powered weapons will make it more difficult for people suffering from mental illness to take the lives of police officers, people in black churches and classrooms full of 6- and 7-year-olds.
One supposedly retired San Jose police officer did take the time to email a picture of me with my head up my own butt. I'll let you know when I reach the promised land.
Another commenter, however, made an important point by noting that most police officers oppose gun control by an overwhelming margin. If true, and I believe it is, this is a point worth discussing.
According to a 2013 poll by PoliceOne, a website dedicated to law enforcement issues, police officers overwhelmingly oppose gun control. More than 91 percent of respondents said that a federal ban on “assault weapons” would either do nothing to keep us safer, or make us less safe. Granted, the findings are three years old, but the numbers were remarkable considering Newtown occurred just three months prior to the poll.
Polling done after the Orlando mass shooting in June found that American support for stricter gun control laws hasn’t been this high since the 2012 tragedy. But if police officers—and even the public to a lesser extent—don’t think high-powered weapons in everyday citizens’ hands is a problem, how can we make progress to stop mass shootings? Are police concerned that greater gun control means we will then go after their guns?
Regarding easy access to guns, and particularly assault rifles, if police do not believe this is a problem—even though many officer-involved shootings are motivated by the concern that a suspect has a firearm—we are merely giving lip service to the Blue Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter movements.
We need more police officers stepping forward to confront the notion that guns are benevolent tools and behavior is all that must change.
In mid-July, Stanford law Professor John J. Donohue said that the reduction of civilian firepower would increase police and community safety. In a Q&A with Clifton B. Parker, Donohue argued that the best way to protect officers and prevent events like the sniper attack in Dallas is to increase gun control:
What can enhance police safety, given the events in Dallas?
Reducing civilian firepower is an obvious measure to enhance police safety, as is banning armor-piercing bullets, although both of these measures are strongly resisted by the NRA [National Rifle Association]. The measures enumerated above that are designed to promote better relations between the police and community—as well as any measures that lead to lower crime rates—will also be helpful.
One important study that merits further investigation found that states with high rates of civilian gun ownership are more dangerous for the police. The study examined data on the number of homicidal deaths of police in two groups of states with roughly equal number of police officers—the eight states with the lowest levels of gun ownership and the 23 states with the highest rate of gun ownership. The study found that, over the period from 1996 to 2010, the rate of police homicide in the high-gun prevalence states was three times as high as the rate of police homicide in the low-gun prevalence states.
The article has several more interesting points about how crime is down nationally, how gun deaths are down and how California is leading the way on gun control. But one thought of Donahue’s should be the standard by which we have the debate: “A fundamental principle is that civilians should have no more firepower than is demonstrably needed for lawful purposes.”
So, commenters, why do you think police officers are so opposed to stronger gun control?
Thank you in advance for your thoughtful responses.