Why Do We Let Cops Carry Guns?


              The town of Northampton, MA has always been a center of racial, gender and cultural diversity; hence, it’s no surprise that the town is, apolitically speaking, about as liberal as you can get.  Their liberalism was on display this week when the City Council criticized an offer from the local Wal Mart which wanted to donate $13,000 in ammunition that could be used for training the town police. This led to a nasty exchange at a City Council meeting, which made Wal Mart’s withdraw from the deal.

              What caught my eye in the reportage was a statement from a local attorney, Dana Goldblatt, who got up at the Council meeting during the public comments period and made this remark: ”We should be able to say fewer police, fewer guns, less ammo, and somehow we can’t.”

              The entire episode got me thinking about gun violence and the degree to which the discussion never seems to focus on whether the cops should actually be walking around with guns. In fact, the United States is the only advanced nation-state which grants its local police the same free access to small arms that we grant to every adult who hasn’t committed some kind of serious crime. In effect, we extend to our police the same Constitutional protection for carrying guns that we give to everyone else, even though there’s nothing in the 2nd Amendment about using a gun to enforce the law.

              Several years ago, our friend Frank Zimring published a really good book, When Police Kill, which pointed out that not only is the annual body count from police shootings at least double what we get from the official reports, but there doesn’t appear to be any connection between the number of police shootings and controlling crime or crime rates at all. What Zimring suggests, and the evidence certainly sustains his argument in this respect, is that other countries which have a similar rate of violent crime exercise tight control over when and how local police can carry guns.

              It’s all fine and well that Wal Mart wanted to give the Northampton Police Department free ammunition that could be used for training the cops how to use their guns, but many, if not most cops rarely, if ever practice using their guns.  Research on this issue is spotty at best, but even a pro-cop, pro-gun blog like Bearing Arms had to admit that, “the overwhelming majority of police officers are not competent shooters.”  And take it from me, that’s an understatement if there ever was one.

              I don’t think it would be such a bad idea if Gun-control Nation would begin asking themselves why are the cops exempted from concerns we all share about the risks of walking around with guns? To be sure, the gun-control contingent has no problem aligning itself with the various public-interest and community groups who decry police violence practiced against members of the ‘less-than-fortunate’ class. But the usual strategy here is to demand more sensitivity training and more time spent on the proper use of lethal force.

How about considering the idea that cops simply shouldn’t be walking around with guns?  This is exactly the point made by Attorney Goldblatt at the Northampton City Council meeting, but I don’t hear it being said anywhere else.

I have been arguing, largely against a brick wall, that until and unless we get rid of handguns, particularly the handguns which account for more than 80% of all gun violence, so-called ‘reasonable’ restrictions won’t do much at all. And while gun researchers continue to pretend they can preserve the 2nd Amendment by using synthetic controls regression analysis to come up with a ‘scientific’ proof of how some new gun law will reduce shootings, there’s about as much science in that nonsense as the science that Pope Urban VIII used to lock up Galileo in 1633.

Want to end gun violence?  It’s simple. Take away what causes the problem, and the problem is caused by guns.  Gee, that was tough one.

Want To Reduce Gun Violence? Go After The Guns Which Cause The Violence.

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If there is one argument that has found its way into every, single comment ever made by every, single gun-control organization, it’s the idea that the U.S. suffers from an extraordinary high level of gun violence because Americans own so many guns. The basis for this argument is research published by our good friend David Hemenway, who explains the fact that the U.S. homicide rate is 7 times higher than other advanced countries, driven by a gun-homicide that is 25 times higher, thanks to all those guns we have floating around.

chicago cops             Since we don’t require universal or even partial gun registration (no mater what Gun-nut Nation says) we actually have no idea how many guns are in private hands. The estimates go from a low of 270 million to a high of nearly 400 million, so let’s say that the real number is somewhere in between. Nevertheless, whether we take the high or the low estimate, we are still the only country whose per-capita gun ownership number approaches or exceeds one, even if the percentage of Americans who actually have a gun in their residence is somewhere between 30 and 40 percent.

The only problem is that while it appears to be an obvious argument bottom line that our fatal violence rate is a function of the existence of all those guns, the argument happens to be wrong. Why? Because most of the guns sitting around in basements, garages or even in living rooms or bedrooms happen to be guns that are just lying around.  And if a particular type or model of gun doesn’t play any role in the events which we refer to as ‘gun violence,’ then why should the existence of this type of gun be counted as having anything to do with gun violence at all?  It shouldn’t, but it is.

The more guns = more gun violence argument is undercut by some data published by our friends at The Trace, who analyzed the types of guns recovered by the Chicago cops in 2014. Of the total 4,505 guns picked up by the cops that year, nearly 40% (1,757 guns) appear to be the most popular handgun models, and while less than 4% of the confiscated weapons were shotguns, the total number of assault rifles was exactly five. How many bolt-action hunting or target rifles were picked up? None.

Of the 1,757 most popular handguns confiscated by Chicago PD, most of those models, like the Smith & Wesson VE and the various Glocks, didn’t even exist prior to 1985.  And 1985 is an important year to use as a yardstick for estimating the size of the civilian gun arsenal, because that was the year, according to Gary Kleck (Point Blank, Guns and Violence in America) that the number of weapons in private hands approached or exceeded 200 million guns.

Since 1985, the gun industry has manufactured another 140 million guns, of which roughly half are shotguns and rifles, the latter including at least 10 million or so assault rifles, which are rarely picked up by the cops. What this all boils down to is that the total number of civilian-owned guns which wind up contributing to gun violence is somewhere around 70 million or less. It’s certainly not the 300 million figure that is bandied around by Gun-control Nation and their research friends in public health.

If we calculate per capita gun ownership based on the guns used in violent crimes, rather than all guns held within the civilian population, the U.S. gun-ownership number drops from being way ahead of everyone else to somewhere in the middle of the pack. Would a per-capita gun ownership number which would be a fraction of the number currently used change the degree to which gun ownership could explain our excessively high rate of fatal crime? It would.

Want to use laws to reduce gun violence?  Base the laws and regulations on a better understanding of how guns are and aren’t used in violence and crime. It’s not like the data isn’t there.

Trump’s Decision to Give Cops Military Equipment Means Absolutely Nothing.


In his quest to make American great again, Donald Trump seems convinced that reducing crime should be at the top of the list. The fact that the murder rate is back down to where it was when Eisenhower was President and other categories of violent crime are less than half of what they were during the Reagan presidency doesn’t seem to matter in the Oval Office. Crime control has always been a big seller for Republicans, and law and order in places other than the Oval Office can always roll up the votes.

swat             In keeping with his pledge to be a crime-fighter without peer, Trump has just announced that he is ending the ban on sales of military equipment to the police, a practice that was curbed by Obama after the shooting in Ferguson of Michael Brown. The transfer of military equipment from the military to the police was actually started by Clinton back in 1996 in a program known as 1033, which allowed police agencies to grab surplus military equipment no longer being deployed for our troops.

According to the Defense Logistics Agency, more than $6 billion worth of vehicles, clothing, office supplies, tools, rescue equipment and weapons have been turned over from the men and women in camo to the men and women in blue, and more than 8,000 law enforcement agencies are enrolled in the program and can get their hands on equipment which the military no longer wants or needs.

When the cops squared off against the protestors in Ferguson, some of the officers were dressed in riot gear, others looked like they had just come from the set of the 1975 television series S.W.A.T. and still others were indistinguishable from National Guard troops that were called out to try and quell the riot which broke out after Brown’s death. When CNN ran a story about how National Guard commanders referred to the rioters as ‘enemy forces,’ Obama reacted by issuing restrictions against further militarizing of the police and shut down the 1033 transfers of gear.

Note incidentally, the use of the word ‘transfer’ as regards how the cops got their hands on this equipment, rather than using the words ‘purchase’ or ‘buy.’ The whole point of this program was to relieve local governments of some of the costs of outfitting their law enforcement agencies, even if what they were getting for free they would never have purchased anyway. The program has shifted ownership of a few HUMVEEs and other ‘tactical’ vehicles, but remember, these are ‘surplus’ items, which means they are too old or too beaten up to be used by the military any more. In other words, most of the equipment which has been provided through this program is the same moth-eaten clothing junk sitting in the Army-Navy store on Canal Street in downtown Manhattan.

Here’s the quote from the White House which sums it all up. Trump’s order “sends the message that we care more about public safety than about how a piece of equipment looks, especially when that equipment has been shown to reduce crime, reduce complaints against and assaults on police, and make officers more effective.” In fact, none of this equipment has been shown to do anything except reduce police budgets, but when all is said and done, this Administration’s crime-fighting strategy is basically a mixture of letting Joe Arpaio off the hook for breaking the law and making stupid jokes about slamming the heads of suspects as they are pushed into the back of a squad car.

Trump’s order has provoked the usual complaints about how police should be community guardians, not community warriors. But the violence in Charlottesville might have been avoided if the cops, who were all decked out in riot gear, had actually stayed around instead of going home. The decision to reinstate the 1033 program is nothing more than Trump pandering to his dwindling base. Police gain the people’s trust by how they behave, not how they are dressed.

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