Written by Dick Fairburn
Over the years I have been blessed with the opportunity to develop some important and successful police programs. In developing those programs I’ve used a top-secret technique I will now reveal to you … ask street cops their opinions and then LISTEN to what they tell you.
Police officers are both opinionated and outspoken. Their viewpoint isn’t monolithic, a range of opinions are well represented, but their focus is eminently practical. Cops focus on what works; simple, straightforward and to the point.
I live in Illinois, the last remaining statewide gun-free-zone, so I stand at ground zero of the gun control debate. Chicago, Illinois’ largest metropolis, is currently experiencing both extreme gun violence and “wilding” street gangs attacking at will on its most “bucks up” tourist mecca, the Magnificent Mile. Yet, Chicago politicians are predicting deadly wild-west shootouts should concealed carry become legal.
So it is with great interest I digest the statistics of the PoliceOne survey (pdf) of those who are first to respond to the daily death and destruction of gun violence. The first impression I take from the numbers is the surprising degree of uniformity. The survey design allows us to break down the opinions by several demographic factors: Department size, active versus retired officers, and rank structure. The opinions are amazingly uniform across the demographic spectrum.
First, America’s enforcers seem to put little faith in the effectiveness of the proposed gun control legislation – particularly the so-called “assault weapon” ban coupled with a ban on high-capacity magazines. More than 91 percent feel the weapon ban will have either no effect or a negative effect on reducing violent crime (95 percent on the high-cap magazine ban). Similarly, 85 percent feel the proposed laws will result in either no effect or a negative effect on officer safety. Apparently, US police officers do not fear fast-shooting weapons any more than they fear firearms in general.
About one-half of the responding officers (57 percent) are in favor of mandatory training before a citizen can purchase guns. And, just under one-half (44 percent) feel mental health background checks on all purchases from a gun dealer would reduce the number of mass shootings. Across the full range of department size, 84 percent of the respondents rate the problem of gun crime in their jurisdiction as small to average.
The numbers which jump off the page and most dramatically catch my attention are those related to the enforcement of any new gun control statutes. When asked their opinion of the statements of police officials who say they will refuse to enforce more restrictive gun control laws, 71 percent judge the refusals to be favorable or very favorable. Only 7 percent of the responding officers view the recalcitrant Chiefs/Sheriffs’ statements as “very unfavorable.”
Taking the enforcement of restrictive gun laws a step further, 62 percent say if they were a Chief or Sheriff they would NOT enforce the new laws. This question garnered an “unsure” answer of 20 percent, but only 17.9 percent said they WOULD enforce such statutes. Wow.
A whopping 91 percent of those polled support concealed carry by honest/screened citizens and 71 percent think open carry is a valid concept, though possibly a misguided practice. When asked how important armed citizens are in reducing the overall crime rate (on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high)), 54% rate the effectiveness of citizens at a “5.” The average value given by the 14,200 officers who rated citizen effectiveness was 4.1. Over 86 percent of the respondents feel a legally armed citizen at the Newtown, CT or Aurora, CO incidents could have reduced or eliminated casualties. Only 5.5 percent of the officers feel an armed citizen at those events might have resulted in a greater loss of life due to an active gunfight.
Question #22 on the survey asked the officers to choose the single action they thought most likely to prevent large scale shootings. The #1 choice, at 28.8 percent was “more permissive concealed carry policies for civilians.” The #2 choice on this question was “more aggressive institutionalization for mentally ill persons.” For those legislators who value the opinion of America’s street cops, “more legislative restrictions on “assault weapons” and ammo magazines,” scored dead last with less than 1 percent checking that box.
It is clear from this important measure of police opinion that US officers strongly support concealed carry by citizens and think it is the single most important factor in reducing violent crime. They also think concealed carry by citizens is probably the most important factor in reducing the death toll posed by active shooters.
Those out there manning the “thin blue line” don’t think enacting more restrictions on the possession of “assault weapons” or high-capacity magazines will reduce the incidence of mass murder. Instead, the reporting officers lean more toward keeping the mentally ill and convicted criminals behind locked doors where they can pose no danger to society.
However you choose to pick apart the statistics or spin the results, it is clear to me that Mayor Bloomberg and his merry band of gun control supporters won’t like the numbers in this PoliceOne survey. I’m not expecting a call for an interview on MSNBC!
Facing a mandate from the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals, Illinois will get some form of concealed carry in two months. We will get to see if armed citizens will have an effect on Chicago’s violent crime rate. Soon we will know if Lakeshore Drive will rival the streets of Tombstone. Judging by their votes on the PoliceOne gun policy survey, America’s police officers are predicting a safer Chicago.
The preceeding article originally appeared on PoliceOne.com, the online resource for Law Enforcement, and is reprinted by permission of the PoliceOne editorial team. Visit PoliceOne to access articles, information, and resources that help officers across the United States protect their communities and stay safe on the streets.
Dick Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy's Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.