- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Retired police officers are rallying against a Democratic bill to create a publicly accessible gun registry, saying it puts their lives in danger by advertising how many firearms are in their homes and where they are stored.

The legislation, H.R. 127, would create a mandatory registry that lists the names of gun owners, the number of firearms they possess and where they keep the guns.

It would require all gun owners to participate in the registry, irrespective of having a law enforcement background. Only current law enforcement would be exempt from the database.

“This is very dangerous, especially for retirees,” said Kevin Hassett, president of the Retired Police Association of the State of New York. “Things have gone so downhill with this level of hostility towards cops and we are out there with the label that we are no longer cops. Retired cops don’t have partners or backup. We are out there on our own.”

Mr. Hassett stopped carrying a gun after he retired in 2003 but started packing again during rising anti-police sentiment from racial justice protests and riots.

His organization’s members are putting pressure on lawmakers to oppose the bill.

Some argue that everyone is safer by giving police and the public information about who has guns and where the guns are kept. Opponents of gun registries argue that registries are more likely to make law-abiding gun owners the targets of criminals looking to steal weapons.

“This bill will go after all the lawful gun owners,” Mr. Hassett said. “If you are ever interested in robbing my house, you can look me up and know where my guns are stored.”

The major police associations have not taken a position on the bill or whether a gun registry would make current law enforcement officers safer.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, introduced the bill on Jan. 4, the second day of the congressional session.

Her bill, named the Sabika Sheikh Firearm Licensing and Registration Act after a Pakistani exchange student killed in a 2018 shooting in Texas, includes a slew of restrictions on firearms and ammunition.

Ms. Jackson Lee introduced similar bills in the past, but they went nowhere. This time, the legislation has the advantage of Democratic control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, although narrowly.

President Biden called for stricter gun laws but has not endorsed Ms. Jackson Lee’s bill.

The bill would require gun owners to pay $800 per year for firearms insurance and ban ammunition that is .50 caliber or greater.

It also establishes a minimum gun ownership age of 21 and requires a psychological evaluation and completion of a government training course before the purchase of a firearm. Even antique firearms displayed in a home would have to be registered.

Those who run afoul of the regulations could face prison time and fines of $50,000 to $150,000.

Gun control advocates have pursued a national registry since Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House. A handful of states, including New York, California and Hawaii, operate state registries, but none goes as far as Ms. Jackson Lee’s bill.

Ms. Jackson Lee declined to answer The Washington Times’ questions about her legislation.

Robert Spitzer, a professor at the State University of New York College at Cortland and the author of five books on gun control policy, said such databases have been effective at keeping guns out of the wrong hands.

“These databases are not the civil liberties, gun-grabbing nightmare gun rights people would claim they are,” he said. “It’s not hypothetical.”

Gun rights groups savaged the bill. They say gun owners could face discrimination when it comes to jobs, insurance or housing if their names appear in the database.

“H.R. 127 is so outrageous, persecutory and unworkable that its main function is simply to display the hostility of its author and supporters toward firearms, those who own them and those who want to own them,” the National Rifle Association said in a scathing column.

Gerald G. Neill Jr., president of the Association of Retired Police Officers, said former cops would face discrimination and could be targets of offenders looking for revenge.

“There is danger in having this as part of the public record,” he said.

Mr. Spitzer said he doesn’t think the retired officers have much of an argument.

He said the bill is in its early stages and exemptions for retired officers could be added. He also said the names and addresses of former police are not closely guarded secrets.

“If I wanted to find the names of the retired officers in my hometown, I probably could,” he said. “It’s a safe assumption that they have a gun, and there is no evidence of systemic crimes against retired police officers.”

No group tracks the number of assaults on retired police officers, leaving analysts to rely on media reports. Those reports are often vague and don’t indicate whether the attack was motivated by the officer’s former job.

The most notable incident in recent memory was in August when retired police captain David Dorn, 77, was killed while protecting his friend’s pawnshop in St. Louis from looters during racial justice protests.

Prosecutors have charged three people in connection with Dorn’s death.

Mr. Neill said the bill would put the public at risk as much as the officers. Many former cops work jobs as security guards, and Mr. Neill said he believes they would rather give up their weapons than appear on the registry.

“If you take arms away from retired officers doing security or something else, you are going to have less people out there able to provide a level for protection for everyone,” he said. “They are not looking to still be police officers, but if they see something, they will stop and help.”

In December 2019, a reserve deputy sheriff gunned down a man who opened fire inside a Texas church during Sunday services, killing two. Jack Wilson, the 71-year-old former lawman, took out the suspect with a single shot to the head and was widely hailed as a hero for preventing a bloodbath.

There are concerns about former officers using their firearms. Curtis Reeves, a retired Tampa, Florida, police captain, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of a man inside a movie theater.

Mr. Reeves insists he acted appropriately. He said he feared for his life after Chad Oulson threw a cellphone and popcorn at him during an argument. A trial is scheduled for April.

“There are plenty of cases of retired police officers who have done bad things with a gun,” Mr. Spitzer said. “It’s not as if retired police officers are Boy Scouts.”

Despite the concerns raised by retired cops, organizations representing current officers have not taken a position on the bill.

“A lot of officers maintain their membership in our organization after they retire,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “So we are very, very mindful of anything that would potentially disadvantage them when it comes from their personal safety, and we would look at it from that standpoint.”

Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said his group hasn’t decided whether it will oppose the legislation.

Gun control advocates, including Giffords Law Center and Everytown for Gun Safety, have not spoken out about the measure. Neither organization responded to a request for comment.

Mr. Spitzer said the current Congress is unlikely to pass the measure because the Democrats have an ambitious agenda. But he noted that Ms. Jackson Lee has introduced the bill before and said it could eventually gain steam.

“Sometimes in the legislative process, you need to stick with an idea over many years and many congresses,” he said. “If the idea continues to be introduced, it may pick up greater traction. I think it is unlikely it will get very far in the current Congress.”

Mr. Neill said the measure is another example of Washington elites’ misguided efforts on gun control.

“These people live in a different world,” he said of lawmakers supporting the measure. “They have security, they have money and don’t have the same worries about personal safety as the regular person does.”

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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