WASHINGTON — Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, have some new allies in their fight to end gun violence. And all of them are armed.
A coalition of law enforcement officers will help them oppose gun legislation pending in Congress, including a bill that would lift restrictions on firearm silencers and another that would require states to accept concealed carry permits from other states, even from states with weaker requirements.
Law enforcement officers were quick to sign on, said Kelly, the son of two police officers.
“These are issues that make it more difficult for cops to do their jobs and it also makes communities less safe,” Kelly, a retired U.S. Navy captain, said in an interview.
The law enforcement coalition is an initiative of Americans for Responsible Solutions, an organization Kelly and Giffords launched after the former Arizona lawmaker survived a gunshot wound to the head. The 2011 shooting in Tucson killed six of her constituents and wounded 12 others.
They will announce the “Law Enforcement Coalition for Common Sense” on Monday and participate in a panel discussion with law enforcement officers on Capitol Hill on the importance of responsible gun ownership and the role officers play in the gun violence prevention debate. Later, they’ll lay a wreath at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
The coalition’s advisory committee includes 20 law enforcement officers from around the country. The group will urge leaders to support “responsible change” that respects 2nd Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens and helps keeps guns out of the wrong hands.
“It’s harder to get a driver’s license sometimes than it is to get a concealed weapons permit and that just seems a little off balance,” said Kalamazoo Chief Public Safety Officer Jeffrey Hadley, who will participate in the panel discussion.
The coalition will be on the defensive. With a Republican-controlled Congress and White House, gun-rights advocates are optimistic about their chances for getting pro-gun legislation passed. Already, the House voted largely along party lines last week to repeal an Obama-era rule designed to bar gun ownership by some Social Security recipients who are deemed mentally ill and unable to manage their finances.
Gun-rights advocates say the Hearing Protection Act — which has been introduced in the House and Senate and would make it easier to obtain firearm silencers or “suppressors” — is designed to protect the hearing of hunters and recreational shooters from the loud blast of a firearm.
Another top priority is the National Concealed Carry Reciprocity Bill. Its sponsor, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., says it will allow law-abiding citizens to travel freely between states without worrying about conflicting rules or “onerous civil suits.”
“Our Second Amendment right doesn’t disappear when we cross state lines, and this legislation guarantees that,” he said.
Hadley sees no logic in either idea.
He doesn’t understand why an everyday American needs a silencer, which he said could make it harder for officers trying to locate where shots are being fired. And while the coalition doesn’t oppose concealed carry permits, he said people from states with weaker permit requirements shouldn’t be allowed to carry concealed weapons in Kalamazoo.
“I worry that there’d be more folks carrying weapons that shouldn’t be,” he said. “And if they have ill intent and we have to engage them in any way, it puts my officers at risk.”
The law enforcement perspective isn’t always heard when it comes to gun policy, said David Chipman, senior policy adviser at Americans for Responsible Solutions. The issue has become so politicized, officers have been reluctant to speak out on the subject.
“It became very risky to enter this space and talk truth to power, no matter which side of the debate you were on,” said Chipman, a former Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent who is leading the coalition.
The goal of the coalition is to create a “safe, non-partisan space” for law enforcement from every political persuasion to share their experiences and bring that message to policymakers. He expects them to be persuasive.
“It’s going to be so important to us,” Chipman said. “We have to understand that law enforcement officers are at the tip of the spear. These are the people who every day are dealing with the problems of gun violence.”
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