Monday, April 9, 2018

Yet Another Crazy Gun Law in the United States

In 2004, Congress passed the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA).  This act, given its title, tried to codify a special privilege for law enforcement officers of nearly all varieties to have concealed-carry firearm permission anywhere in the United States, regardless of local law or local police practice.  This privilege was also extended to retired officers provided they fulfilled certain yearly certification requirements.  From Wikipedia:

“The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) is a United States federal law, enacted in 2004, that allows two classes of persons—the ‘qualified law enforcement officer’ and the ‘qualified retired or separated law enforcement officer’—to carry a concealed firearm in any jurisdiction in the United States, regardless of state or local laws, with certain exceptions.”

This right to concealed-carry was available to federal officers, but not to state and local officers.  LEOSA was intended to fix that, and to extend the right to certain retired officers.  The legislation was pushed by police organizations and lobbied against by police administrators who feared loss of control and the chaos that might ensue when local police interacted with unknown gun carriers whose legality could not verified.

The legislation seemed to assume that officers would be carrying their firearms around and would be able to leap into action whenever a crime was encountered.  One goal of the law was to protect officers from liability for whatever followed from their actions. The following quote from the House version of the bill that was ultimately passed into law suggests that the recent 9/11 terrorism attack weighed heavily on the legislators.

“LEAA [Law Enforcement Alliance of America] argues that this legislation will ‘allow tens of thousands of additionally equipped, trained and certified law enforcement officers to continually serve and protect our communities regardless of jurisdiction or duty status at no cost to taxpayers.’ FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] contends that this legislation will help its members to protect citizens in the wake of a terrorist attack and that it is even more necessary since September 11, 2001.”

 Explicit in this law is the assumption that every law enforcement officer is an exemplary citizen who will always know what to do in any situation encountered.  Given recent history, many people might consider that concept to be rather naïve.  It would be interesting to know the statistics associated with off-duty officers using their weapons, but that is a discussion for another time.

The reason the term “crazy” was used with respect to this law was not to criticize the use of weapons by off-duty policemen and policewomen.  That may be efficient in terms of law enforcement.  Rather, the goal was to point out that any good intention can be perverted and produce unintended consequences.

Think not of current urban law enforcement, but rather of rural regions with low population density.  Few people means few police officers and a lot of ground to over.  One recalls the old westerns where a sole sheriff deputizes a bunch of local residents to go out and apprehend a horse thief or cattle rustler.  Apparently, there is a modern version of this where law enforcement agencies extend the status of “deputy” or an equivalent title to lightly trained individuals who spend a little time working at law enforcement.  These part-time or weekend officers can also gain the right to concealed-carry throughout the nation.  In this context, the law invites abuse.

From Wikipedia, a qualified enforcement officer under LEOSA is one who is authorized to carry a gun by a law enforcement agency and…

“….is authorized by law to engage in or supervise the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of, or the incarceration of any person for, any violation of law, and [sic?] has statutory powers of arrest, or apprehension under section 807(b) of title 10, United States Code (article 7(b) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice); This includes state and public college/university police officers.”

Zachary R. Mider produced an article for Bloomberg Businessweek that looked into the practice of gaining concealed-carry authorization by establishing a limited association with a police agency: Robert Mercer’s Secret Adventure as a New Mexico Cop.  Yes, the person referred to is the same Robert Mercer, billionaire, famous, or infamous, for his support of Donald Trump’s election campaign and various other extreme right-wing activities.

Lake Arthur is a small town with a population of 433.  It has a police department with one full-time employee, Police Chief William Norwood.  Norwood chose to encourage the use of “reserve officers” in order to have company on his long drives through the area he patrols, or to have “backup” as he refers to them.

“Norwood formed the reserve program in 2005, not long after he joined the department. With the nearest backup a half-hour or more away, he didn’t like the idea of patrolling solo, so he turned to a couple of Army buddies for volunteer help. The program expanded by word of mouth. At one point a few years ago, there were almost 150 reserve officers—that’d be a ratio of one to every 2.9 residents—and Norwood, who prefers patrolling to paperwork, acknowledged he wasn’t giving the program the oversight it needed. In 2016 a reserve captain took over administrative duties, tightened up policies, and cut the number of reservists almost in half. Last year, Norwood stopped accepting new members altogether. But even this smaller force is enough to provide him with a visiting reservist or two on any given day, free of charge.”

And who are these people who flock to Lake Arthur at considerable personal expense to perform police duties for a few days per year?

“Norwood and three part-timers are buttressed by 84 reserve officers, most of whom live hundreds or even thousands of miles away. There are Lake Arthur reservists in San Diego and Virginia Beach. Several are among the most elite soldiers on Earth—former U.S. Navy SEALs. Many are high-dollar bodyguards or firearms instructors, and almost all of them are serious gun enthusiasts. On that count, Mercer fits right in. He once built a personal pistol range in his basement. Through a company he co-owns, Centre Firearms Co., he has a vast collection of machine guns and other weapons of war, as well as a factory in South Carolina that makes assault-style rifles.”

Norwood insists that none of these “reserve officers” receives special treatment.  Therefore, each are willing to go on patrol at least six days each year, paying for their own travel, lodging and food, a firearm, and body armor.  It seems there are a number of people who are willing to spend a lot of money and time to obtain what money alone can’t buy: concealed-carry privilege anywhere in the United States.  They don’t fit the image of solid-citizen police officers who carry their guns hoping, in their spare time, to intercede in the fight against crime.

“Norwood refused to discuss Mercer or any other individual reservist but said that if a person simply wanted concealed-carry rights, volunteering for his squad wouldn’t be worth the trouble: Department rules require 96 hours of patrol work and 20 hours of training a year. He added that while reservists are encouraged to carry their weapons off-duty for protection, they’re not allowed to use their concealed-carry privileges for outside work. (Later, after I showed Norwood the LinkedIn accounts of two men who seemed to be doing just that—security contractors touting their ability to carry guns anywhere—the men faced ‘severe’ disciplinary action, a department spokesman said.)”

How common are situations like that in Lake Arthur?

“Since the law took effect, a few police and sheriff’s departments around the country have been rumored to hand out badges to buddies or in exchange for cash. The gun community calls them ‘badge factories.’ Questions about whether Lake Arthur was such a place swirled last year on a popular gun chat room, after a noted firearms expert from North Carolina who was also a reservist got drunk and accidentally shot his brother-in-law in the leg. (Norwood quickly stripped him of his badge.)”

The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act may have been sold as an attempt to free full-time officers to counter crime and criminals 24/7 while protecting them from liability for their off-duty actions, but from todays perspective it appears as just another ploy to put more guns on the street.  This seems an opening stage to the marketing of the concept that if every “good guy” carried a gun the “bad guys” wouldn’t dare commit a crime. 

What is always forgotten, or ignored, is the fact that a considerable fraction of injuries and deaths from guns are attributed to accidents and suicides.  And those activities are proportional to the number of guns in play.  The harm from putting more guns in circulation exceeds any crime fighting benefit that might accrue.

The interested reader might find the following article informative:

Guns, Armed Citizens, Crime, and Massacres

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