D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier’s suggestion that ordinary citizens try to take down an active shooter before officers arrive is drawing criticism from Second Amendment advocates who question how residents of a city with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation could be expected to defend themselves.
“This is sound advice,” said Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. “But considering the draconian gun laws in the District, it will remain difficult, if not impossible, for most private citizens to do what the chief is suggesting.”
In an interview Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Chief Lanier was asked what should people do if they are in the vicinity of an active shooter like the those who carried out the recent terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.
“Your options are run, hide or fight,” Chief Lanier said. “I always say if you can get out, getting out is your best option. If you’re in a position to try and take the gunman down, to take the gunman out, it’s the best option for saving lives before police can get there.”
While gun rights supporters have long advocated for the ability to carry firearms so individuals are able to protect themselves and potentially even intervene in such a scenario, the advice rang hollow for those in the District, where firearm ownership is tightly regulated.
The District for decades outlawed handgun ownership until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ban in 2008. Since then, city leaders have enacted restrictive laws that are still being challenged in court by gun owners and pro-gun activists.
City regulations allow only those who can demonstrate a “good reason” to need to carry a handgun to be eligible for a concealed-carry permit. Statistics provided by the Metropolitan Police Department indicate that as of Nov. 14, the department has approved 48 permits out of 298 applications. Another 185 have been denied, and the remainder are pending.
Mr. Gottlieb, founder of the Bellevue, Washington-based Second Amendment Foundation that has backed lawsuits challenging the District’s gun laws, said that if the police chief is advocating for citizens to fight back against active shooters, he would hope that she would try to make it easier for residents to arm themselves in order to do so.
“We’re glad Chief Lanier departed from the usual narrative and encouraged people to fight back,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “But her advice would have more credibility if she were to take a leadership role in reforming the District’s gun laws. You can’t fight back if you don’t have the tools, and the only way to take a gunman out, as the chief suggested, is to shoot back. That’s pretty hard if you don’t have a gun.”
The National Rifle Association, likewise, was supportive of the chief’s comments, but called it “ironic” that the same chief who oversaw the drafting of strict concealed-carry regulations is calling for people to exercise their constitutional right to self-protection.
“We only hope that this means she will begin to issue concealed-carry permits to law-abiding citizens so they won’t have to ‘take out’ armed terrorists with their bare hands,” said NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker.
It was unclear whether the police chief’s evolving view on how the public should engage with an active shooter also might mean a change in her stance on the city’s restrictive handgun-carry laws.
Police department spokesman Lt. Sean Conboy said Monday the agency declined to comment further on the matter.
Chief Lanier noted during the “60 Minutes” interview that her advice was a departure from prior advice dispensed by police, who typically have encouraged witnesses to report a crime to police rather than to intervene.
“We’ve never told people take action … This is a different scenario,” she said.