At Odds Over Assault Weapons Ban: Sheriffs versus Police Chiefs

By @FrederickReese |
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    Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, to introduce legislation on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices. Congressional Democrats are reintroducing legislation to ban assault weapons but the measure faces long odds even after last month's mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The measure being unveiled Thursday is authored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who wrote the original assault weapons ban. That law expired in 2004 when Congress refused to renew it under pressure from the National Rifle Association. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, to introduce legislation on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices. Congressional Democrats are reintroducing legislation to ban assault weapons but the measure faces long odds even after last month’s mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The measure being unveiled Thursday is authored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who wrote the original assault weapons ban. That law expired in 2004 when Congress refused to renew it under pressure from the National Rifle Association. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)


    On Jan. 25, Mint Press published the article “Opposition To The President’s Gun Control Proposal Rises, Includes Law Enforcement,” in which the disdain of a coalition of sheriffs against the 2013 Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions and presidential proposals to control excessively dangerous weaponry was profiled. New events have convinced Mint Press to continue this conversation.

    (Mint Press) – On Monday, President Barack Obama met with law enforcement officials that hail from communities affected by high-profile shooting massacres, including the police chiefs of Aurora, Colo., Oak Creek, Wis. and Newtown, Conn. Obama stressed the importance of cooperation with Congress in order to advance his gun violence proposals. “As we’ve indicated before, the only way that we’re going to be able to do everything that needs to be done is with the cooperation of Congress,” Obama said.

    “No group is more important for us to listen to than our law enforcement officials. They’re where rubber hits the road,” the president said about to his desire to meet with law enforcement. “And hopefully if law enforcement officials who are dealing with this stuff every single day can come to some basic consensus in terms of steps that we need to take, Congress is going to be paying attention to them and we’ll be able to make progress.”

    The president reiterated his support and the importance of the assault weapon bans: “That means passing serious laws that restrict the access and availability of assault weapons and magazine clips that aren’t necessary for hunters and sportsmen and those …  responsible gun owners who are out there. It means that we are serious about universal background checks. It means that we take seriously issues of mental health and school safety.”

     

    Sheriffs oppose ban on assault weapons

    The assault weapons ban — the most cantankerous provision in the president’s proposal — has proven to be more divisive than before imagined. Previously, sheriffs from several states came forward in their opposition of the president’s proposal. On Jan. 2, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association wrote a letter to Vice President Joe Biden arguing that a ban on assault weapons will fail to address the issues of gun violence. The letter also argued that banning larger magazines will not decrease the user’s access to ammunition, that investment in mental health screening and treatment is needed to reduce the threat of gun violence and that the “culture of violence” in today’s popular entertainment dehumanizes killing and is more influential of the increase in gun violence than the availability of guns.

    Recently, however, the sheriffs have found that not all of law enforcement agrees with them. In a position paper from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the chiefs argue that “the persistent and pernicious problem of gun violence impacts communities across the United        States on a daily basis. Ranging from random shootings and suicides to retaliatory assaults and targeted mass killings, violence committed with firearms universally challenges law enforcement and taxes resources … the IACP has long advocated for the adoption of common sense policies that will assist        in reducing gun violence.”

    In this regard, the IACP advocates for not just an assault rifle ban, but a complete ban on all military-grade weaponry and defensive implementations — including body armor — to anyone that is not currently in law enforcement or the military. The IACP also supports state rights in legislating concealed weapons laws, greater prosecution on all levels of government to violations of the Brady Act, the enactment of a firearms offender registry and the protection of a five-day waiting period for firearms purchase.

    Additionally, the IACP is calling for assurances that individuals banned from gun purchase from Federal Firearms License-holding sellers cannot obtain a gun privately from gun shows or private sellers, the overturning of the “Tiahrt Amendment” — which prevents the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from sharing gun trace information with state and local counterparts — and the permanent disqualification from gun ownership of any individual that committed a gun-related crime as a child.

    The Major Cities Chiefs Association has also publicly sided with the president in regard to gun control. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, the president of the MCCA, said of the deaths of the 20 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.: “If the slaughter of 20 babies does not capture and hold your attention, then I give up, because I don’t know what else will. We have to pass legislation.”

    In Ramsey’s city of Philadelphia in December 2012, the chief saw 92 shooting incidents and 105 gunshot victims. The youngest was a 4-year-old boy, who was wounded during an incident that saw his father also being shot, and a 4-year-old girl who was injured in an accidental shooting. In all, nearly 400 people were killed in Philadelphia in 2012 by means of a gun.


    Gun rights advocates demonstrate at the Pennsylvania Capital building Wednesday Jan. 23, 2013, in Harrisburg, Pa. The rally comes amid calls for a boycott of the nine-day Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg next month, and a growing list of vendors pulling out of the show.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)


     

    Differences in perspective

    A key difference in the way police chiefs and sheriffs see guns derives from the nature of their jobs. Police chiefs are appointed officials charged with running a metropolitan police force. As police chiefs are not elected, they are free to react to the realities of their positions without fear of voter backlash. Sheriffs, on the other hand, are elected officials charged to maintain and coordinate law enforcement across a county. As sheriffs are chiefly responsible for the unincorporated areas not patrolled by the municipal police, their focus are mostly rural. More importantly, a sheriff must stand for re-election every four years, so his policies must reflect the will of the people.

    In regards to the ethos of guns in this country, where you live dictates how you see a gun. If you live in a city, you see a gun as an instrument of death. Most violent gun incidents happen in urban areas, and in such areas, the typical perspective about a gun is as the victim of someone using it or owning one to protect oneself from someone who may use it. However, if you were to live in the country, the gun is seen as a tool. It is used for hunting and for protection. It’s a rite of passage for young men. It’s a family heirloom; it’s a trusted companion.

    Steve Rigell is the president of Preemptis, Inc. — a global consulting firm — and has engaged professionally in tracking social and behavioral trends. Mr. Rigell told Mint Press: “Rural folks also have a long tradition of having to be self-reliant because they often live considerable distances from centers of service and in some cases from their closest neighbors. Urban dwellers, however, are intimately aware of their reliance and interdependence on other people for everything, including the most basic needs. These perceptions shape the personal need for access to tools. There are probably some city dwellers who do not own a hammer. Such a situation would be unthinkable for a person living in a rural setting.

    “City dwellers realize there is much over which they exercise no control, and are willing to relinquish some of their own autonomy to mitigate the randomness inherent in living so close to so many people they do not know and cannot understand,” Rigell continued. “Rural dwellers live in less proximity and, as a result, have a greater sense of order in their world.”

    It is in these two radically different perspectives that the gun debate centers around. To gun control advocates, it is simply a matter of controlling and limiting a dangerous substance.

    To the gun rights advocate, however, it’s the devaluation of a precious belief.

     

    Americans love their guns

    According to Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis, 22 percent of all Americans own a firearm that they keep in the home or garage. This is a population of about 68 million Americans owning 270 million firearms. Half of all privately-owned firearms in the world are owned by Americans. Of these 68 million, their guns represent a right that reflects their world and their place in it.

    Ian Underwood is a gun safety and shooting instructor with 10 years’ practical experience. Underwood shed light on the philosophical differences between the gun control and gun rights camps, telling Mint Press: “I think there is indeed a philosophical split along the lines of whether a person is primarily concerned with means or primarily concerned with ends. One of them is making deductive arguments (starting from certain premises and deriving conclusions from those) while the other is making abductive arguments (starting from a desired set of outcomes, and either inventing ‘premises’ on the spot in order to justify those desires or just declining to try to justify them at all by labeling them as ‘common sense’ or appealing to opinion polls.”

    Underwood points out that if a person is concerned with means, then taking options off the table — such as limiting access to guns — is unacceptable, despite the moral argument for removing this option. It is the loss of that option that is most important. However, if a person is concerned about the ends, then the practicality or “fairness” of removing or altering a means that may interfere with achieving the “ends” desired is not considered. So, the feelings of gun holders toward their guns are moot, according to an “ends”-focused arguer, as long as it reduces the number of available guns.

    “So, if two people with opposite orientations get into a discussion about gun control, you can almost guarantee that it’s not going to go anywhere,” Underwood continued. “What typically happens is that they end up discussing means: the ends-oriented person claiming that certain solutions will be effective, and the means-oriented person offering reasons why they won’t.”

    Underwood asserts that understanding can only occur by addressing the philosophical underpinnings of the other side head-on. By recognizing and respecting the other side’s argument — instead of ridiculing it or ignoring it — inroads can be made toward finding a compromise acceptable to both sides.

    In response to opposition in regards to the assault weapon ban, Vice President Biden, as reported by NBC News, has downplayed the ban and is emphasizing background checks and gun magazine restrictions.

    In a Google hangout session last Thursday, the vice president stated that he’s less “concerned quite frankly about what you call an assault weapon than I am about magazines and the number of rounds that can be held in a magazine … I don’t view it as gun control, I view it as gun safety.”

    An outright ban on assault rifles is unlikely to clear the Senate — Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is pro-gun — and would be dead on submission with the House and likely would cost the Democrats major concessions to pass, and is almost guaranteed to be heavily resisted by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has introduced a bill into the Senate that would re-enact the 1994 assault weapon ban. The NRA is confident of the bill’s defeat, however. “We are confident Congress will reject Sen. Feinstein’s wrong-headed approach,” the NRA said in a statement. Sixty-nine percent of all Americans favor a ban on the sale of assault weapons, according to studies presented in Reducing Gun Violence in America.


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