A national survey of law enforcement shows officers believe many proposed gun control measures — including bans on assault weapons — will be ineffective at reducing violent crime and that legal gun ownership by private citizens would prove a better safeguard.
Among the findings of a survey by the industry website PoliceOne, which tallied responses from 15,000 verified active and retired law enforcement professionals, police overwhelmingly favor an armed citizenry and are skeptical of any greater restrictions placed on gun purchase, ownership or accessibility, editor Doug Wyllie said.
The survey found that 91.5 percent of respondents believe a federal ban on the manufacture or sale of semi-automatic weapons would have no effect or a negative effect on the reduction of violent crime. Though a national assault weapons ban is dead in the water, numerous states — including Maryland, Connecticut and New York — have adopted or enhanced their own bans.
The vast majority of officers also believe legally armed citizens are important in the reduction of crime rates.
"It's my analysis that by and large law enforcement officers favor enforcement of current laws and enforcement against illegal guns," Mr. Wyllie said. "They also favor responsible, armed citizens in the midst of other civilians out there to help protect innocents from harm."
Release of the survey, conducted March 4-13, comes at a time politicians in Congress and around the country are pushing for stricter gun restrictions in the name of public safety. The Senate is scheduled Thursday to take up gun legislation that would expand the types of gun sales subject to background checks, and impose new penalties on gun traffickers and straw purchasers — those who buy guns to transfer them to people who can't legally own them.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. addressed an audience of law enforcement officers from around the country at the White House in support of the administration's gun control measures. But the survey results, issued Monday, indicate a strong undercurrent in the public safety community that is critical of additional gun restrictions.
When asked what would help most in preventing a large-scale public shooting, the majority of respondents, 28.8 percent, favor more permissive concealed-carry policies for civilians. The second most popular answer, with 19.6 percent, was that more aggressive institutionalization for mentally ill persons would prevent a large-scale shooting, followed by 15.8 percent who believed more armed security would prevent such a tragedy.
Less than 1 percent of respondents believed that further restrictions on assault weapons and ammunition magazines would prevent a large-scale shooting.
When asked what impact a legally armed citizen could have had in a mass shooting such as the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. or movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., a whopping 80 percent believed casualties would have been reduced while another 6.2 percent thought casualties would have been avoided altogether.
As long as civilians were deemed psychologically and medically capable and did not have any felony convictions, 91.3 percent favored allowing civilians to carry concealed firearms.
The survey was publicized to more than 400,000 registered PoliceOne members and vetted to ensure responders worked in law enforcement, Mr. Wyllie said. While not scientifically conducted, the poll was an opportunity to give rank-and-file officers who Mr. Wyllie said might be dissuaded from speaking publicly on the gun control debate a way to "be seen on the issue."
"There hasn't been a venue from which everyday patrol officers and sergeants can chime in," Mr. Wyllie said. More than half of respondents identified themselves as officers or sergeants, while two-thirds came from departments with 500 or fewer personnel and three-quarters said they were currently on the job.
The survey also revealed divergent thoughts on gun buyback programs, which gained renewed attention in the wake of the Newtown shooting. While police departments around the county have hosted gun buybacks, touted as a way to get dangerous weapons off the streets, 81.5 percent of respondents did not believe gun buybacks were effective in reducing gun violence.
The opinions expressed in the survey clearly don't represent all of law enforcement.
After a recent White House gathering of police chiefs and sheriffs, Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger told The Associated Press that police chiefs are "very supportive of the assault weapons ban." Maryland passed legislation last week that prohibits 45 guns under such a ban, limits handgun magazines to no more than 10 rounds and requires residents to obtain a license for a gun.
In Colorado, where gun control legislation was passed last month that prohibits the sale of ammunition magazines holding more than 15 rounds and requires background checks for all private gun sales, elected sheriffs and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police are on different sides of the issue. The association spoke out in support of the legislation before its passage, while The Denver Post reported Tuesday that 37 of the state's 62 elected sheriffs are preparing to sue in order to overturn the law.
The Major Cities Chiefs Association, a professional association of police executives representing the largest U.S. and Canadian cities, adopted a platform in January that supports an assault weapons ban and bills that prevent gun trafficking and record keeping of ammunition purchases.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the former chief of the District's Metropolitan Police Department, recently acknowledged in an interview with the Associated Press that not all law enforcement personnel agree on gun control priorities.
"You're not going to get 100 percent of people to agree on anything as it relates to gun control, and we're no different, but a majority of people in the room recognize that something needs to be done," he said.
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