Do Republicans Respect Police Opinion?

Republicans and conservatives are usually the quickest to insist the police must be respected, that “Blue Lives Matter,” and that officers should be allowed to do their jobs without pesky protests against the deaths of unarmed black males or other forms of unnecessary force. (The rightwing insinuation that one can’t respect officers for their bravery in a dangerous line of work, or want police officers to be safe, and oppose police harassment, brutality, and corruption is so obviously absurd it requires no further comment.) Conservatives are proud to have law enforcement’s back, even blindly at times. But when it comes to gun rights, it seems any deviance from mainstream conservative ideology on the part of police departments is simply ignored.

The Missouri gun bill — SB 656 — is a good example. On Wednesday, the Missouri Senate overrode Democratic Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of SB 656. In one month, Missourians will no longer need to pass a criminal background check, take a gun safety class, or get a permit to carry a concealed weapon (it is already legal in Missouri to openly carry without a permit or safety training).

The police backlash against this measure was immense.

The Missouri Police Chiefs Association is against the Missouri gun bill. Its president, Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams, said, “Someone who would have been prevented from carrying a concealed weapon before, they would be permitted to carry a weapon under this law. That creates a danger for law enforcement officers when they encounter those individuals on the street.”

Williams said the association is “at a loss for why we would want to do away with something that is working.”

The Missouri Fraternal Order of Police is against it. Its legislative director, Sergeant Kevin Ahlbrand, said:

The system we have in place works well now. Local sheriffs are the best people to recognize who in their communities should and should not carry firearms. Most of the other states with this type of legislation are mostly rural states. There’s a big difference between what happens in rural Missouri, Montana and Vermont and what happens in urban Kansas City and St. Louis.

As far as open carry in Kansas City and St. Louis, open carry is not supported by local ordinance unless people have a Concealed Carry Weapon permit. Sheriffs are the best ones to determine who should be able to carry a concealed weapon… This is a danger to public safety and it will be an increased danger to law enforcement because, quite frankly, we will have to assume everyone is armed.

The Springfield Police Officers Association is against it. President Mike Evans said:

I can tell you that a weapon in the hand of a properly trained individual can be life saving. I can also tell you that a weapon in the hand of an untrained or misguided individual can be devastating.

For those who want to take on the responsibility to carry concealed, under the pretense of being the first line of defense for themselves or possibly others, is it really too much to ask that you demonstrate you can use the weapon and have a basic understanding of the justifications for when force can be used?

The Kansas City Police Department is against it. Deputy Chief Cheryl Rose said before Wednesday’s vote, “We join law enforcement across Missouri in urging the Legislature to uphold the veto of Senate Bill 656.” Further,

Police are very concerned that if this law goes into effect, it will make it easier for many more people to perpetrate gun violence, which is a considerable problem in Kansas City. It also could make it extremely difficult for law enforcement to get guns out of the hands of people who would use them to commit violent acts.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp is against it. He said, “The public should understand that Jackson County has declined over 900 requests for a conceal and carry permit since the existing law has been in effect. We need to continue to take guns out of the hands of people who are going to be harmful to our community. If overridden, SB 656 would give those rejected 900 people the ability to own a gun.”

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson is against it, going so far as to write an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, urging Missouri to “put public safety first and let SB 656 remain where it belongs: in the graveyard of bad ideas.” He declared:

SB 656 would end Missouri’s concealed carry permit requirement, which is one of just a few remaining checks and balances we have against the arming of violent criminals. It’s already too easy for lawless people to carry lethal weapons. This bill would make it even easier, and in the process, make things that much harder for peace officers who work to keep our communities safe…

Just as a driver’s license acts as a handy proof of one’s competence to lawfully drive a car, concealed carry permits help legal gun owners readily identify themselves to the police. Removing the permit requirement would also remove that clarity, needlessly increasing the risk of confusion in encounters between armed citizens and armed officers…

Even with our current permit requirement in place, police officers routinely find themselves in harm’s way doing the job we ask them to do: to protect St. Louis from a deadly gun violence epidemic. Overriding SB 656 would be a clear step in the wrong direction. It would increase the risks officers face on the job, it would make their work even more difficult and it would, without question, leave all of us less safe.

The National Rife Association made the Missouri gun bill its “top national priority,” according to the Missouri Times, lobbying hard for Nixon’s veto to be overruled. And when the NRA says jump, Republicans ask how high, regardless of whether they’ll stomp on the police on the way down.

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