A ruling handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court last week threatens Chicago's 28-year-old ban on handguns. But the court's finding that residents have a Second Amendment right to keep a handgun in their home for protection could also provide a new opportunity for Chicago -- and other cities and towns across the country -- to enact strict firearms policies.
As a police chief, I know first hand the threat that handguns pose to law enforcement officers and other first responders like firefighters and paramedics. In order to do our jobs effectively, we need comprehensive public policies that keep handguns out of the wrong hands. I am talking about the need to preserve and enhance laws that keep handguns away from criminals, gang members, the mentally ill and others who would visit harm upon our citizens. I am talking about laws that make sure that firearms are stored safely, especially around children.
My professional interest in responsible firearms policies is also a personal interest. A few years ago, one of my officers was shot in the line of duty -- fortunately, he lived and continues to serve our community. And just last May, Sgt. Joe Bergeron -- an uncle to one of my sergeants -- was ambushed, shot and killed in Maplewood.
Nationally, in 2009, officer line-of-duty deaths decreased except for firearms-related deaths, which rose by 22 percent over 2008. At this point in 2010, officer firearm-related deaths are 35 percent above 2009. Between 1999 and 2009, more than 20,000 law enforcement officers were assaulted with firearms in the United States. Of the 530 officers killed in the line of duty during the same time period, 486 -- more than 90 percent -- were killed by a firearm. If not for advances in body armor, paramedic practices in the field and emergency room medicine, we would have lost more officers.
Firearms in the wrong hands are also a threat to community safety -- guns are used to kill about 30,000 Americans a year, and they injure some 70,000 more. According to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, during the past several decades firearms have been involved in approximately 65 percent of homicides, 55 percent of suicides (the Minnesota Department of Health tells us that, in our state, 76 percent of deaths related to firearms are suicides), 40 percent of robberies, and 20 percent of aggravated assaults in our country. The numbers I cite do not include accidental shootings, which especially take a toll on our children.
The obvious solution to this senseless loss of life is reasonable law on who can buy guns (close the "gun show -- no background check needed" loophole); on the kinds of guns and ammunition that can be purchased (e.g., military assault weapons and armor-piercing bullets do not belong on our streets); on the reporting of lost or stolen firearms, and on how guns are kept and stored.
Gun violence is a destructive force and threat to our communities and society. We need sensible gun policies to reduce this threat. Last week's Supreme Court decision has provided all of us with an opportunity to make that happen.
Solid first steps would be to close the gun show loophole that allows the sale of guns on a cash and carry basis, with no identification required. Add those who commit crime(s) with a gun to the Predatory Offender Registry, and require them to register where they live and when they move, as we now do with sex offenders and other predators. And we should enact an assault weapons ban.
Scott M. Knight, chief of police in Chaska, Minn., is chairman of the International Association of Chiefs of Police Firearms Committee.
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