on H.R. 218 and H.R. 339
Police Carrying of Concealed Weapons and
Citizen Carrying of Concealed Weapons
Before the House Judiciary Committee
Subcommittee on Crime
July 22, 1997
Thank you for inviting me to appear before this committee to discuss the concerns Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) members have with proposed legislation that would permit citizens to carry concealed weapons nationally, and current and former qualified law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons outside their own jurisdiction. I commend the committee for recognizing the need for discussion on these issues.
As police professionals dedicated to improving the quality of life in our communities, PERF members recognize that many citizens don't feel safe. They are often prisoners in their own homes because crime and fear of crime have crippled their ability to feel safe in their own neighborhoods. PERF members serve over 40 percent of the nation's population; they routinely see the need to provide better protection for their officers and the citizens they are sworn to protect. PERF vigorously supports and conducts research on crime prevention and intervention strategies, trying to find innovative solutions to long-term problems that plague our communities. We have studied H.R. 218 and believe that, as currently drafted, expanding the ability of current and former police officers to carry concealed weapons may exacerbate the problem of officer safety and citizen protection, without the commensurate advantages of having more armed officers on the streets.
This is not to say that the sponsors of the legislation do not have laudable goals. Certainly, police cannot be everywhere. PERF members agree that we would like to increase police presence in communities, especially without additional costs to the taxpayers. We also want citizens to feel safer, and minimize their chances for being victims of crime. Our members tell us, however, that these national legislative proposals may not be the best remedy for our crime problems.
The issues are many, and some of them complex. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the concerns raised by PERF chiefs. In July 1996, PERF surveyed 375 member police professionals on pending concealed weapon carrying laws for police officers and citizens. Seventy percent of the responding members opposed such legislation for police officers. Ninety-two percent of survey respondents opposed legislation that would allow citizens to carry concealed weapons, particularly when those laws would take discretion for granting concealed weapon permits away from law enforcement officials.
I would like to share with the committee PERF's position on citizens' carrying of concealed weapons, and then focus the rest of my testimony on the police carrying of concealed weapons.
Citizen Carrying of Concealed Weapons
The reasons why more than 90 percent of responding PERF members indicated their opposition to citizen CCW laws focus primarily on officer safety and the lack of definitive evidence that such measures will reduce gun-related crimes. We also believe that this is an issue best handled by individual states, rather than by federal legislation.
A 1995 study conducted by University of Maryland researchers David McDowall, Colin Loftin and Brian Wiersema indicated that in four out of five municipalities examined, there was an increase in the number of firearm-related homicides after carrying concealed weapon (CCW) laws were relaxed. At the time this study was released PERF President and Buffalo Police Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske stated, "Given the findings in this study, I am concerned that we may see an increase in violent crime without any benefit in personal safety." Kerlikowske added, "Having been a police chief in several jurisdictions, some of which have weakened their CCW laws, I am troubled that so many states are considering relaxing their laws. With more and more citizens carrying concealed weapons, there is heightened concern that conflicts among citizens, and those between citizens and police, will increasingly be resolved with a gun. There must be more research on the impact of these CCW laws."
As a research organization, PERF is constantly reviewing and integrating new research findings as it forms policies and directs change in the law enforcement field. After reviewing the criticisms and discussions of the recent research done by John Lott, Jr. and David Mustard research that finds "shall issue" laws allowing easier citizen access to concealed weapon permits have been responsible for significant reductions in violent crime PERF sees no immediate need to revise its position in opposition to relaxed CCW laws. PERF's position is based on criticisms of the Lott and Mustard research methodology criticisms from academicians outside of PERF as well as our own research director.
PERF encourages further debate on CCW laws and supports additional research. But until more careful research has been conducted, PERF continues to advise legislators to oppose any CCW legislation for citizens as a public safety matter.
Many of the issues that follow apply to both citizen and police carrying of concealed weapons. I will proceed by sharing with you PERF members' comments from the survey.
PERF members have long held that the role of the federal government in controlling state and local crime problems must be carefully defined. Certainly local police appreciate the substantial federal resources this committee has made available for supporting additional officer hiring, equipment and other necessary support for police. There are also times, as with the 1968 gun control law, that a national strategy is needed because lax gun laws in one state were undermining the efforts of other states. Expanding citizens' and police carrying of concealed weapons does not dictate such a response. We believe this issue is best left to the states. For example, each state should have the power to determine whether they want police officers who are trained and supervised by agencies outside their state to carry weapons in their jurisdiction. According to the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, more than 20 states now forbid officers from other states to carry concealed weapons when not on official duty. There is good reason for this, as detailed in the following discussion. More guns, even in the hands of police officers, does not necessarily mean less crime. We see no reason to federalize a policy that has been traditionally handled adequately on the state level. To date, states have decided or have deferred to individual departments to set the policy on off-duty police officers' carrying concealed weapons.
Variation Among the States
Another major concern of the PERF members surveyed focused on variations among states regarding police use of force. The nation's attention on police use of force underlies the priority police and citizens place on strict standards regarding when deadly force is justified and for accountability when it is employed. We are concerned that proposed legislation could undermine both standards and accountability. Authority for police to carry firearms when not on duty, and policies on use of force and firearms training standards, vary among agencies from state to state. Why should a police chief who has employed the most rigorous training program, the strictest policies and strident accountability measures be forced to permit officers who do not meet those standards to carry a concealed weapon in his or her jurisdiction? A police chief will be held accountable to citizens and elected officials for police actions in that city, even when those actions are by police from another jurisdiction over which the chief has no control. There are minimum standards regarding use of deadly force, but many police agencies go well beyond those minimum standards. For example, though Tennessee v. Garner sets minimum deadly force standards, many police agencies exceed those standards either through the accreditation process or on their own initiative.
What makes good public safety sense for my officers should be the same for visiting officers. Police chiefs may well find themselves in the position of learning that an out-of-state officer acted in ways prohibited by his or her own officers. The controls that progressive police leaders employ to ensure fair and humane service to all citizens could well be compromised.
Former Qualified Police Officers
Many of PERF members' concerns center on the inclusion of former qualified police officers in H.R. 218. There is reason to believe that their skills may diminish once regular training and oversight is stopped. While H.R. 218 requires that the individual must "meet such requirements as have been established by the State in which the individual resides with respect to training in the use of firearms," we are unsure of how this would be implemented. Who will be responsible for ensuring that former officers receive regular training and certification of successful completion? Who will pay for this additional training responsibility? Who will provide the accountability required of current law enforcement officers? Even a police officer who retires with exceptional skills today may be stricken with an illness or other problem that makes him or her unfit to carry a concealed weapon. Who will ensure that repeat training and oversight will be provided?
Retirement does not necessarily result in a loss of officer skill or capacity, but we cannot ignore that potential, nor the possibility that an officer has retired under threat of disciplinary action or dismissal for emotional or psychological problems. The bill does not account for officers who retire or quit just prior to a disciplinary or competency hearing.
While the bill does not specifically address the issue of liability, it does not appear to supersede current state laws or departmental policies. We remain concerned, however, that a police agency may be held responsible for an off-duty officer who misuses his or her weapon in another state. Although the off-duty officer would not technically be exercising his or her legal authority as a "police officer" in another state, the agency could presumably become a target for a civil lawsuit, given the financial resources available to municipal governments and the police agency's authority to give an individual the status of "police officer," which qualifies the officer to benefit from the legislation. Under the proposed legislation, the officer or former officer would even be carrying a card from the employing police agency.
The issue goes beyond merely liability; it is also the expense associated with proving no liability. For example, if a Maryland officer travels to California on vacation and shoots a citizen, the citizen could conceivably sue in a California court, which may require the Maryland agency to spend considerable funds to defend the case even if the agency is determined not to be liable. Those resources would be better spent serving our community. We wonder if an officer would also have to expend critical personal resources if his or her agency decides that officer was not acting within their scope of employment at the time of the shooting. There are many issues that we believe must be addressed regarding officer and agency liability.
Police Officer Safety
As police chief executives we are deeply concerned for the safety of our officers. The proposed legislation has been deemed by some as a means for police officers to protect themselves and their families while traveling. Undercover officers and others are concerned with being recognized or retaliated against when on vacation or travel. They also know that if they see a crime in progress, they will try to intervene, gun or no gun. These are all compelling considerations and are not to be taken lightly. We believe, however, that we must balance these benefits against some of the potential dangers before reaching final judgment on the legislation's potential impact on officer safety.
For example, many police agencies discourage off-duty actions unless a life-threatening situation is involved, and this is not done solely for liability reasons. Problems in identifying an officer in plainclothes can create additional dangers when uniformed officers reach a scene. A particular agency's means for identifying an officer in plainclothes as an officer, or even officer recognition, is further complicated by an individual in civilian attire claiming to be an officer. We fear this measure would increase the potential for officers mistakenly confronting armed officers from another state, with potentially tragic results.
The off-duty officer is also not regularly equipped with handcuffs or a radio and may not have an alternate less-than-lethal weapon, such as spray, to employ before using his or her gun. We believe further research is warranted on the use of weapons by off-duty officers before expanding their use to a national level.
Probation, Parole and Corrections Personnel
We believe additional information is needed on the level of training and education that probation, parole and corrections personnel receive on criminal law, investigations and use of deadly force as compared with law enforcement before expanding the reach of the legislation to include them.
PERF members are dedicated to advancing policing practices that will make our communities safer. We hope that the concerns we have outlined above will help advance the discussion on laws that would permit police greater ability to carry concealed weapons in other states. PERF members know that police officers are caring and conscientious professionals. Our foremost concern is for their safety and that of the citizens they protect. We look forward to working with members of this committee to make our cities safer places to live.