SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – The recent push to relax gun laws in the US has brought police officers into conflict with Republican lawmakers who usually back law enforcement.
In states like Texas, Tennessee, and Louisiana, police denied urges to drop requirements on people to get background checks and training before carrying handguns in public, plans that came as gun sales continue to set records during the coronavirus pandemic broke.
“We believe it was just one more opportunity to hurt our officers,” said Fabian Blache Jr., executive director of the Louisiana Chiefs of Police Association. “It was a threat to law enforcement.”
There, a final public plea from dozens of Louisiana law enforcement officers narrowly helped stave off a move to override the Democratic governor’s veto of covert carry-off laws. But he expects the proposal to come back next year, and in several other conservative states the police opposition has not halted laws to lift permit requirements.
Gun violence is increasing across the country and law enforcement agencies are struggling to handle the spikes, especially in cities. The federal government has intervened with emergency services and other measures are helping to stop the sale of illegal weapons. In many cities, police officers are already working at a disadvantage compared to forces eradicated by retirements and difficulties recruiting after the massive police protests in 2020, and many see relaxed gun laws as another challenge.
Not knowing who is carrying a gun increases the potential danger in any encounter, and less training required means more people don’t know how to properly use a gun, Blanche said.
“Police officers are trained all over the country and they make mistakes,” he said. “So why are we going to give opportunities to people who are not trained to carry a gun and use it at will?”
In Tennessee, warnings from police chiefs and sheriffs this year did not stop attempts to drop permit requirements in GOP-controlled state legislation. This law was passed months after another measure against protesters who lobbied for police reform, a vote intended to aid law enforcement.
Although several polls have found public support for gun permits, arguments that they undermine the rights of the second amendment have caught on in conservative state governments in recent years.
“There is some discrepancy between repeating the political slogan ‘Back the Blue’ and supporting policies that are actually supported by the ordinary police and the leaders of police organizations,” said Robert Spitzer, professor at the State University of New York -Cortland and author of “The Politics of Gun Control”.
Police opposition hasn’t stopped a push to lift permit requirements that was passed in about 20 states, Spitzer said. Although their positions have authority, they lack the advertising campaigns and lobbyists that openly have political interests.
“Their voices and opinions were known, but they weren’t a real megaphone in public politics because it put them in a really bad position. They are civil servants and their job is to enforce the law, whatever the law, ”he said.
And permitless carrying has law enforcement supporters, including sheriffs, many of whom are in elected positions overseeing more rural areas. In Utah and Iowa, police groups have generally been kept out of the debate that year.
Discussions about police reform dominated conversation in Iowa and how to stem the rise in violent crime, said Sam Hargadine, executive director of the Iowa Police Chiefs Association. He does not see the issue of permits as a major part of the violent crime discussion, especially since chiefs could not deny the people any permits anyway.
“I think there are extremes on both sides. But compromises have to be made because we have way too many shootings, ”he said.
Not all police officers are against the law, and gun law advocates see no conflict between fighting crime and making it easier to carry firearms. They argue that people generally don’t get permits for guns used in violent crimes, so the change makes it easier for those who abide by the law to get a gun, and many measures include harsher sentences for some Gun crime.
For Texas Republican James White, his party’s disagreement with the chiefs of the state’s major cities over wearing without permission was part of the give and take of the legislative process.
“There were some things in this session … where we were consistently about where law enforcement wanted to be, and sometimes we just had to tell them we had to look in a different direction,” said White, an outgoing state legislature now running for the agricultural commissioner.
He also pointed to the stricter penalties the law provides for felons who illegally carry weapons. “It was a very strong crime business, tough on crime,” he said.
White argued that the new law wasn’t a massive change in a state where guns were allowed in cars without a license and long guns didn’t require licenses. Texas became the largest state to drop handgun licensing regulations that year, a move welcomed by the National Rifle Association and other gun law advocates.
Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation argued that policing is inherently dangerous and giving up permits won’t make a big dent, but it will improve gun rights. “I shouldn’t need a permit to exercise my constitutional rights,” he said.
Police opposition had helped keep the idea from gaining momentum even in gun-friendly Texas, but with a change in legislative leadership, support grew in just a few weeks that year. It ignored objections from survivors of the mass shooting that killed 23 people in a Walmart in El Paso two years ago.
“One thing I’ve learned from my longstanding work with the police is that you can count on them to tell you what is putting the public at risk,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown For Gun Safety. “I think what the police know is that crime is increasing across the country and this is the worst possible time to pass such laws.”
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