Ask any law enforcement officer for an opinion on the prevalence of guns in America and the answer you will invariably get is not that there is need for more guns to make people feel more safe but that there is need for less.
Yet, amazingly, there is a move afoot in the Legislature not to make it more difficult to own guns but, rather, to make it easier. That, in essence, is exactly what Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, wants to do. According to a report in Wednesday’s issue of The Miami Herald, Sen. Evers is sponsoring bills that would prevent doctors from asking patients about guns in their homes, allow the 780,000 gun permit holders in the state to wear their weapons openly — no doubt Wild West style, as Miami-Dade once did — and block local governments from passing gun control measures. Of course, those legislative efforts are being promoted by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
And they are a slap in the face of all law enforcement officers and an insult to the memory of the officers who have been killed mainly by criminal suspects who should never have gotten their hands on guns.
The NRA, lest we forget, while its membership includes those who genuinely believe in a right to bear arms, is, in the final analysis, little more than a front for gun manufacturers, for an industry that makes its profits from making weapons, the sole purpose of which is to kill.
We would have thought that the tragic loss of Miami-Dade County Detectives Roger Castillo and Amanda Haworth and St. Petersburg Police Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz at the hands of armed criminal suspects, the 10 other police officers killed in just one month, all other law enforcement personnel who have been fatally shot and the mass killings and attempt on the life of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson would be a wake-up call for sanity in the gun control debate. Sadly, insanity still rules for some people, including some in positions of power, like Sen. Evers.
Police officers put their lives on the line all the time and it is society’s responsibility to make it as safe as possible for them, in turn, to keep us safe and protect the peace. Flaunting guns in the open and tying the hands of local officials who know the depth of the problems and the solutions needed do not make for safe policing.
Nor would they advance the cause of halting the wholly intolerable killing of young black men by other young black men, using guns – a commodity that, it should be remembered, the black community does not produce.
This is also a time for reflecting on the other side of policing: the level of trust that should exist between law enforcement and community. There can be no rationalizing for the killing of the officers in Miami-Dade County, St. Petersburg and elsewhere. But their deaths should be an occasion to examine police-community relationships. At a panel discussion
Monday night hosted by the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP, several speakers expressed the view that the level of distrust among young people, especially African Americans, towards the police is very high. That is no doubt due to the fact that we have recently witnessed a period in which a number of young African Americans have been fatally shot by police in the city of Miami. But it is likely also due to the fact that police officers harbor a genuine, sincere fear – however misguided — for their lives in any problematic situation involving young black men.
It is a vicious cycle, one that is not new, by any means, but one that has not been receiving the degree of attention it deserves in order to ease the obviously high level of tension that surrounds relations between police and residents.
Residents must be made to understand that the police are, in the final analysis, friends and, in the final analysis, the bulwark against the possible outbreak of lawlessness that no one wants to see happen.
And police officers must be made to understand that residents are not automatically enemies who are out to get them but, for the vast majority, just ordinary people who are law-abiding and want to be able to go about their affairs secure in the knowledge that a friendly police force sensitive to their concerns is keeping watch over them.