In the debate over gun control and Americans’ 2nd Amendment rights following yet another tragic school shooting incident, there is a group that has been virtually ignored by the news media. Police chiefs and officers face the potential of gun violence every day. They regularly come face-to-face with citizens carrying firearms, many of whom do not in the least resemble a “well-regulated militia.”
The men and women who are trained in firearm use and deadly force deserve to be heard in the arguments over gun control. News media reports feature victims of gun violence, lawmakers, and gun rights advocates who argue the 2nd Amendment forbids any form of gun control.
When is the last time you saw or heard a police officer or police chief speak on the law enforcement recommendations to reduce gun violence through firearm regulations? Are police eager to have more armed citizens to join in the battle against gun violence? Not exactly. More guns in the hands of more citizens who lack the proper training and mental discipline to use deadly force place the lives of citizens and police officers at greater risk.
Support for police also means support for gun control.
Police officials are the first to see and experience the deadly costs and effects of gun violence. A regional group of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) recently convened 200 law enforcement leaders and others concerned with gun violence. They reviewed the research, listened to experts, shared information and made recommendations to reduce gun violence. The report of the Great Lakes Summit on Gun Violence meeting in April 2007 deserves national attention.
Police chiefs’ gun control recommendations include:
- Requiring judges and law enforcement to remove guns from situations of domestic violence and from people with mental illness, drug use, or criminal records.
- Requiring all gun sales take place through Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders with mandatory background checks.
- Ban military-style assault weapons, armor-piercing handgun ammunition, .50 caliber sniper rifles and other weapons that enable criminals to outgun law enforcement.
- Repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which hinders investigation of illegal gun trafficking.
- Destroy guns that come into police possession once their law enforcement use has ended.
- Improve officer training on crime suspects with guns, including tracing all guns.
- Train police officers in tactics to reduce the possibility that a hostile situation will erupt in violence.
- Mandate safe storage of firearms by private citizens and provide safe facilities where gun owners can store their weapons.
- Require reporting of lost and stolen firearms.
These recommendations aim to improve how police respond to and investigate gun crimes; to better prevent gun violence; and protect communities. But law enforcement and the IACP cannot fight this battle alone. They need public support, including the support of law-abiding gun owners. They need elected officials in Congress and state legislatures to stop catering to special interests and instead act in the public interest to reduce the escalating risk of gun violence in America.
“Law enforcement leaders understand and embrace their leadership role in combating gun violence. Every time a shooting happens, law enforcement gets the call: to stop the shooter; solve the murder; deal with the suicide; and put their own lives on the line to protect the community. When an officer is assaulted or killed by gunfire, it is an assault on justice and on society as a whole.” –The IACP Great Lakes Summit on Gun Violence, 2007
Reasonable gun control measures that balance citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights are neither new nor impossible. Following the tragic assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968. Now fifty years later the American public appears ready for action once again. An overwhelming majority supports common-sense laws and stricter enforcement of the laws that are now on the books. A majority of gun owners voice support for laws that would reduce illegal gun trafficking and require background checks for all gun purchases.
The Biblical perspective on justice emphasizes individual and community responsibility to practice “doing what is right” in order to maintain peace (“shalom”) among all peoples. We live in a world where conflict, threats to our safety and fear often reign. Firearms among responsible citizens are legal means of self-defense.
People of faith are taught above all to put our trust in God Almighty. We have a responsibility to God, our children and families, and our neighbors to support a just and peaceful community. God’s chosen people were instructed to follow the laws and “teach them to your children” (Deuteronomy 11:18).
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an
everflowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
The prophet Amos proclaimed God’s desire that people of faith do what is “right” through fair legal procedures. “Righteousness” is the quality of life in community relations that gives rise to justice.
A safer society demands the willing participation and support of all citizens. Gun owners and lawmakers who resist reasonable measures to regulate the sale, purchase, and possession of firearms are in effect placing both police officers and the public at risk of further gun violence.