I am like most people — I don’t feel comfortable in the presence of guns. Given their express purpose for killing, it’s only natural to be nervous in the presence of people openly carrying guns.
The Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether the constitutional right to bear arms extends beyond one’s house. Indeed, lower courts have ruled just the opposite. Two weeks ago, the Florida Supreme Court upheld that state’s ban on open carrying of firearms. However at present, open carry is legal in Connecticut, so we need to deal with the law as it stands.
That should not mean that citizens visibly armed in public should be treated no differently than someone carrying a book or a smartphone. The current practice holding that law enforcement may ask to see a gun permit only if officers have reasonable suspicion of a crime is not acceptable.
I want police to consider an armed person a potential threat until they’ve established that they are legally allowed to carry in public, which they can only do by seeing the pistol permit, which is required to be on their person. I can’t, and neither can law enforcement, know whether he’s a “good guy” with a gun or a “bad guy” until the permit is produced.
In November 2015 a Colorado Springs resident called 911 to report a suspicious-looking man openly carrying a gun. The caller was told that because Colorado is an open carry state, the police could do nothing. A short while later the gunman opened fire, killing three people. Whether the gun lobby’s argument that no criminal would openly carry a gun is true or not, it surely doesn’t apply to someone who is dangerously mentally ill.
The San Mateo County (Calif.), Sheriff’s Office wrote, “When police are called to a ‘man with a gun’ call they typically are responding to a situation about which they have few details. Officers may have no idea that the person is simply ‘exercising their rights.’
“Consequently, the law enforcement response is one of ‘hyper-vigilant urgency’ in order to protect the public from an armed threat. It’s well and good in hindsight to say the gun carrier was simply ‘exercising their rights,’ but the result could be deadly.”
Connecticut gun rights extremists oppose House Bill 6200, which would require those who openly carry guns produce their permits to police, because it challenges their “guns everywhere” agenda.
As usual, they are quick to raise a Second Amendment defense in their refusal to recognize any limitations on the right to bear arms. But they conveniently overlook the arbiter of the Constitution, the Supreme Court, which ruled in its Heller decision, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited.”
Once again, gun rights advocates think only of themselves. The Judiciary Committee, which is currently considering H.B. 6200, must consider constituencies beyond gun owners. As members consider how to vote, they should ask, what if someone with a gun visible is hanging around a playground? Are the moms and dads just supposed to pray he’s a good guy? Or maybe it’s a guy waiting outside a synagogue, a mosque or the church of an African American congregation. Should the congregants just wait to see if he’s another Dylan Roof?
We live with many situations where we must prove our identity to protect public safety. We surrender IDs to get on a plane, to buy a prescription, to get a drink, to buy cigarettes, to hunt and fish. Sure, none of these are constitutionally protected activities, but they’re all part of living in a society that cares about the safety of its citizens. There is a moral imperative to let people live in safety and without fear of threats every bit as much as there is a constitutional right of individuals to own guns.
The Judiciary Committee has a responsibility to keep the public safe, which they should do by voting “yes” on H.B. 6200 to allow law enforcement to make sure people carrying guns openly in public really are “good guys.”
Jonathan Perloe is director of programs and communications for CT Against Gun Violence