Lawmakers must have the courage to oppose concealed-carry proposal

Two years ago, on a snowy winter evening, a young Philadelphia police officer, Robert Wilson III, entered a local Gamestop store to buy a gift for his son. Minutes later, he was dead. Two brothers, both of whom had prior run-ins with the law, shot Wilson six times in a botched robbery attempt.

Since that horrible day, nearly 130 more police officers and an estimated 66,000 Americans across the country have died from gun violence, including suicide. These statistics prove what we in law enforcement already know to be true: Our nation is in the grips of a deadly gun-violence crisis, one that leaves our nation’s brave law enforcement officers in the crosshairs, and one that demands a national solution.

But at a time when more police are being assassinated in ambush killings than in any time during the last two decades, some elected leaders in Washington — and the special-interest groups that back them — are pushing for new, irresponsible laws that are an assault on law enforcement officers, their families, and our communities’ safety.

Right now, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are debating a dangerous proposal that would force each state to recognize the concealed-carry laws of other states, even those that have far weaker standards. Currently, Pennsylvania has the right to choose which state’s concealed-carry laws it recognizes, which is important because the requirements to carry hidden, loaded guns in public vary drastically from state to state. If this federally mandated concealed-carry reciprocity bill passes, that will no longer be the case, and Pennsylvania will be forced to allow unlicensed, unvetted people from out of state to carry concealed guns in public places. If this happens, it will have a disastrous impact on public safety and law enforcement.

Twelve states — including Pennsylvania’s neighbor, West Virginia — do not require any permit or training to carry hidden loaded guns in public. If this bill becomes law, almost any person from these states would instantly be able to carry concealed in Pennsylvania, regardless of whether that person meets the commonwealth’s standards for carrying a concealed gun in public. This not only puts communities in danger, it makes it harder for law enforcement officers to do their jobs.

Under this proposal, it would be nearly impossible for law enforcement officers to quickly and easily verify that individuals are carrying lawfully. It’s not just the state laws for who can carry concealed that vary significantly across the states. The actual permits vary significantly, too. Some state permit cards contain no photograph of the permit holder; others are as flimsy as library cards. This would require law enforcement to contact out-of-state issuing authorities to verify the permit’s authenticity. Law enforcement is most effective when officers are out on the street fighting violent crime, not stuck behind a desk doing administrative work.

Most alarmingly, the bill in the House goes so far as to open up law enforcement to the threat of personal litigation. If a law enforcement officer mistakenly questions a person’s legal authority to carry a concealed firearm, they can be sued, personally. If an officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that someone is carrying a firearm unlawfully, the last thing they should ever have to worry about is whether that individual may turn around and sue them and bankrupt their family.

As a law enforcement officer, I had to go through a series of common-sense steps before I was ever entrusted with a weapon. First, I had to pass a background investigation. Then, I underwent hours of rigorous firearms training in both the classroom and at the gun range. Every year, I qualified with the firearm I was issued to carry. Why should it be easier for an untrained civilian to carry a loaded weapon than a cop? It simply makes no sense. And that’s why nearly every major law enforcement organization is opposed to this proposal.

Earlier this year, I joined former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a gun-violence survivor, and her husband, Navy combat veteran Capt. Mark Kelly, the son of two New Jersey cops, in a new initiative, the Law Enforcement Coalition for Common Sense. This coalition brings together law enforcement officials from across the country who are committed to urging our elected leaders to enact responsible change. Some of us have served in rural communities. Some, like myself, have served in urban communities. We all have a deep appreciation for the Constitution and the Second Amendment. Yet we all have seen firsthand the toll our nation’s gun-violence crisis is taking on our families and on our communities.

As public safety experts, we feel an obligation to speak out about the policies that will adversely impact the safety of law enforcement and our neighbors. It is my hope that others who have taken the same oath to protect their communities will join us in voicing concern about the dangers these irresponsible policies pose.

During my years in policing, I have responded to crime scenes. I have comforted grieving families at the hospital, including the families of brave officers, like Robert Wilson III, who were killed with a gun. I’ve seen the cost of our nation’s gun violence crisis. From my experience, the only way to make our communities safer is not by playing to America’s worst fears, but by championing our greatest hopes.

Now more than ever, we need to come together — concerned citizens, law enforcement, and elected leaders — to build safer communities for our children and cops. That important work must begin now, and it must start with us having the courage to oppose measures, like concealed carry, that put our very safety in jeopardy.

Charles H. Ramsey is a visiting fellow at Drexel University’s Lindy Institute and a former police commissioner of Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. chr37@drexel.edu