Police chiefs normally stick to enforcing the law, but the Newtown shooting massacre has prompted some to go political and demand specific new gun control laws.
Lawmakers and mayors aren’t the only ones ratcheting up the debate on gun control. Some big city police chiefs are also stepping into the political arena, lobbying for tighter controls that they and their officers would then enforce.
Take for instance San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne, who in an interview last week called for tougher gun laws and clearly chafed at the influence the National Rifle Association has held for years over the national debate.
Lansdowne suggested the Newtown, Conn., massacre may have undercut the gun lobby’s power and opened the door for new gun control legislation. “We broke the NRA,” Lansdowne boasted in an off camera portion of an interview with San Diego 6 and the Washington Guardian. When asked to expound, he demurred.
The White House plans to unveil its regulatory plan Wednesday for tightening gun controls, and Lansdowne threw his support behind President Barack Obama.
"I could not be more supportive of the president for taking the position he has," he told KPBS in a separate interview. "I think it's courageous with the politics involved in this process. But I think it's going to eventually make the country safer and certainly safer for my officers that have to respond to these calls. "
The pro-gun movement is showing no sign of letting up, however.
The NRA unleashed a new video Tuesday calling Obama "an elitist hypocrite" and announced it has had a massive surge in new memberships since Newtown. Gun sales have soared as some gun owners fear new restrictions. And after a White House meeting with the NRA, Vice President Joe Biden pointedly omitted promising an assault weapons ban that he and the president have long supported, suggesting the White House would focus first on closing loopholes on gun buyers’ background checks and limiting the size of ammunition cartridges.
In fact, the NRA scoff at the notion that the tide has turned against Second Amendment supporters. “I would say that the likelihood is that they are not going to be able to get assault weapons ban through this Congress,” NRA President David Keene told CNN this past weekend.
Normally, police leave the politics to politicians, or their umbrella lobbying groups. But the Sandy Hook Elementary rampage, which claimed 20 children and eight adults, has pushed many individual chiefs from their normal positions of enforcing the law to expressing political opinions and advocating legislative outcomes.
Chicago Police Chief Garry McCarthy recently was quoted as supporting several new laws that would restrict assault weapons, restrict high-capacity magazines and close a gun-show loophole on mandatory background checks.
“People are going to say that this is gun control and they’re going to take our guns,” McCarthy was quoted earlier this month saying. “We’re not looking for that. We’re looking for reasonability in the law.”
On the flip side, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose region suffered through the mass shooting that wounded Rep. Gabby Giffords a couple of years ago in Tucson, Ariz., is supporting the NRA's position of putting armed security in schools, and opposing tougher gun controls.
“Cities with the largest gun crime problems are New York City, Chicago and Washington DC all have one thing in common- the strictest gun laws,” he said. “This is not a gun issue, it’s a mental health issue,”
Some groups representing rank-and-file also are opposing more gun controls, like the Law Enforcement Alliance of America. “That’s because they know, better than most, that disarming honest citizens does nothing to reduce crime, but will deprive citizens of the means of defending themselves from violent predators,” the group said.
San Diego's Lansdowne, who plays an active role in the western region of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), said in the interview it may take a generation, but guns will eventually be taken off the streets through new laws.
He also has personally advocated for a legislative solution that would allow current lawful firearms owners to keep their assault weapons if new sales are banned, but prohibit assault firearms from be passed down to living relatives after death, meaning the weapon would be destroyed when the current owner dies.
Separately, IACP is advocating a ban on assault weapons, restricting high-capacity magazines, closing loopholes that allow firearm sales between private owners without background checks, future gun transfer grandfathering, and implementing much stricter background checks by using a comprehensive database.
Lansdowne also is pressing to address the mental health component that is a common denominator in many of the recent mass shootings.
“Having a national system that quickly identifies those people who are suffering from acts of violence and mental health issues,” is also key when it comes to addressing gun violence, he said.
Under Lansdowne, San Diego Police implemented the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team or (PERT), a program that pairs a licensed mental health clinician with a law enforcement officer to respond to calls dealing with psychological issues.