by Dr. Michael S. Brown
December 3, 2001
KeepAndBearArms.com -- Congress is currently considering a bill, HR 218,
which would exempt current and former law enforcement officers from state laws
prohibiting the carrying of concealed handguns.
While this idea has been around for years, post 9-11 fears make passage seem
more likely in this session of Congress. Supporters hope people will take
comfort in the thought that a fellow airline passenger might be a vacationing
police officer who is discreetly armed.
The strongest support for HR 218 comes from police unions and law enforcement
associations. Cops are justifiably concerned that criminals they once arrested
will seek revenge on them or their families. Laws that prohibit them from
carrying a concealed handgun outside their own jurisdiction or after retirement
are seen as creating undue hardship.
On the surface, it would seem like only the most extreme anti-gun radicals
would oppose such a practical measure. Gun rights organizations should be
natural supporters of a law that would put more guns where they are needed.
Unfortunately, the issue is complicated by difficult political factors.
Decades ago, most law enforcement organizations were strong supporters of the
traditional American right to keep and bear arms. The modern political landscape
is much different. Many of the police organizations that support HR 218 have
been highly visible allies of the anti-gun lobby. Cynical observers have pointed
out certain self-serving aspects of this political shift, although that is
beyond the scope of this column.
In particular, these organizations have vehemently opposed laws that require
states to issue concealed handgun permits to civilians who pass a rigorous
background check and meet various requirements. The laws have been a great
success in 33 states and millions of permit holders have proven beyond any doubt
that they can be trusted to carry their sidearms responsibly.
Although rank and file officers generally support civilian gun rights,
statements by high-ranking police spokespersons against concealed carry laws
have been dishonest, vicious and mean-spirited. In the eyes of gun rights
supporters, these leaders of law enforcement groups promote themselves as being
a special class of human being, superior to those who are not part of their cop
This tendency to divide the population into "them and us" is now
coming back to haunt them, because many politically active gun rights groups are
planning to oppose HR 218.
Gun owners remember the insulting claims that permit applicants were
"cop wannabes", that more guns in civilian hands would cause minor
disputes to end in shootings, and that blood would run in the streets if lowly
civilians were ever allowed to carry guns.
In reality, the number of mistaken shootings, and the number of deliberate
murders, is much lower for this group of citizens than for law enforcement
officers. Research has also shown that concealed carry laws are associated with
a significant reduction in violent crime.
In addition to hard feelings from previous encounters, there are other
problems causing gun groups to oppose HR 218.
First, the law does not change FAA regulations prohibiting firearms in
aircraft cabins, so it would have no effect on hijackings unless other changes
Second, many gun rights activists are strong supporters of state's rights.
Using federal power to override state gun laws may be unconstitutional.
Third, it is an open secret that many officers simply ignore laws that
restrict their right to carry outside their jurisdiction, relying on
professional courtesy to keep them out of trouble. Granting them a special
exemption might make their lives easier, but with many off-duty officers already
carrying both legally and illegally it may not result in a dramatic change.
There is also concern that the special exemption would increase the sense
that law enforcement officers are a superior class. Pro-gun groups point out
that everyone has a right to self-defense. A better option, they believe, would
be to repeal current laws that infringe on that basic human right.
The proposal to exempt officers from state gun laws may be a useful
crime-fighting measure, but it will be debated in a highly politicized
environment that bears the scars of past conflicts.
Dr. Michael S. Brown is an optometrist and member of Doctors for Sensible
Gun Laws, www.dsgl.org. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His archives on this site are found here: http://www.KeepAndBearArms.com/Brown.