Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Officers Four Times as Safe Checking Rifle Carriers

Open carriers with rifles; neither hunters nor protesters, but private purchasers at a "buy back" event

Most law enforcement officers do not interact with people openly carrying riles and shotguns, or long guns, as they are collectively called.  That has been changing in recent years as more and more members of the gun culture have exercised their first and second amendment rights by openly carrying long guns.  The movement has taken off in Texas, where the open carry of modern pistols is banned in public places.   Texas is one of only six states that bans the open carry of pistols.   In Texas the law is an archaic anomaly caused by the civil war and the rewriting of the the Texas Constitution during reconstruction.  In other states, open carry of long guns in cities and towns is a celebration of second amendment rights, or a protest by youthful citizens who are not allowed to carry pistols.   In either case, protesters pushing for reform of restrictive laws, or people educating the public and police officers by exercising their second amendment rights, the rifle and shotgun carriers have been remarkably safe.

Texas open carry march

The open carriers often go to considerable lengths to insure safety, keeping the long guns slung over their shoulders, requiring chamber flags (brightly colored plastic inserts that indicate an empty chamber) and enforcing strict muzzle discipline on each other to insure that the firearms are not pointed at anyone.  This is understandable, as they are in the public eye, and accidents would be seen as an enormous set back for their cause.    Even the New York Times recognizes this:
The state’s clear interest in maintaining public order can be narrowly satisfied by demanding that protesters either carry guns that are unloaded — at least with an open chamber — or which otherwise have the barrel or action blocked. Thus far, open carry protesters have largely followed this rule, notably by sticking tiny American flags into their guns.

Open Carry at the Michigan Capitol

But how safe are they when it comes to law enforcement?     In spite of the news coverage, the increasing open carry of long guns is not easily quantified.  Most officers will not yet encounter openly carried long guns.   Criminals eschew them because they are not easily concealed.   More people are murdered with hands and feet than with rifles and shotguns.

Colorado open carry celebration march

There is a group of law enforcement officers who encounter openly carried long guns hundreds of times a year.   If there were to be a problem, it is they who would encounter it.   It is axiomatic that game wardens deal with people openly armed with loaded long guns hundreds of times as frequently as do other law enforcement officers.

Hunters with long guns.  The center two have semi-automatics
Decades ago, I was a game warden in a couple of states.   Wardens routinely encounter people carrying loaded long guns.   The guns are usually not slung, but are carried at the low ready or port arms.   I never saw a chamber flag in these encounters, nor did I ever hear of a warden who did.   Wardens do not customarily or regularly disarm the armed people that they interact with.  Wardens do not routinely point their weapons at people carrying loaded long guns. Yet my recollection is that they are almost never shot by long gun carriers.   Some wardens were so confident of the safety of their work, that they routinely left their issue firearms in their vehicle, or at home.  Part of this confidence may stem from the fact that a great many wardens are recruited from the gun culture, and understand its ethics and values.

We do not have to rely on anecdotal evidence.  There are statistics.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are 6,640 fish and game wardens in the United States as of 2013.   The job description reads as follows:
Patrol assigned area to prevent fish and game law violations. Investigate reports of damage to crops or property by wildlife. Compile biological data.
The BLS also gives us a number for total sworn law enforcement.   There are 635,380 of them for the same year.  Here is their job description from the BLS:
 Maintain order and protect life and property by enforcing local, tribal, State, or Federal laws and ordinances. Perform a combination of the following duties: patrol a specific area; direct traffic; issue traffic summonses; investigate accidents; apprehend and arrest suspects, or serve legal processes of courts.
Fish and Game wardens make up a little over 1% of the total, 1.045%.

We also have numbers for law enforcement officers who were shot and killed in the line of duty, including the number of game wardens.   I chose a 20 year period, from 1992 to 2011, to be long enough for significance, and to ensure that there was time to collect data from the more recent cases.

According to the Officers Down Memorial Page website, there were 1189 sworn officers that were deliberately killed by gunfire from 1992 to 2011.   They have a separate category for accidental gun fire, and as expected, it is a tiny fraction of those who are killed deliberately.    If game wardens died by gunfire at the same rate as other law enforcement officers, you would expect that there would be 12 felonious killings of game warders during the same period.  1.045% x 1189 = 12.42.   That is a very small number, and 20 years is a long time.

The facts are startling.   Only three game wardens were deliberately killed by gunfire in the 20 year period, less than 1/4 of what would be expected.   One of them was killed while assisting deputy sheriffs in a drug raid (he had been a narcotics officer before becoming a game warden).  He was shot with a pistol.   The other two were killed in the process of apprehending poachers.   One was shot with a handgun in the process of placing the offender in handcuffs;  the other was shot with a rifle after the offender emptied his pistol at the end of a high speed chase, then grabbed a rifle.   None of them were shot while a warden was approaching someone openly carrying a long gun. 

If we leave out the drug raid, the number drops to less than one sixth. 

It appears that one of the safest things law enforcement officers can do is check out people who are legally carrying long guns.  This is not surprising when you consider that hunters and open carry demonstrators and protesters are subsets of the same culture, the gun culture.

The gun culture, as explored by professor Brian Anse Patrick in "The Rise of the Anti-Media" is in transition from the older gun culture in which hunting was a predominant activity, to the new gun culture in which self defense and politics are predominant activities.

One of the commandments of the gun culture is to never point a gun at anyone or anything you do not wish to destroy.   This commandment is so ingrained that gun culture members who become peace officers often have to undergo special training to overcome the reluctance to point guns at people.  As a firearms instructor, I observed this cultural effect many times.

The open carry of long guns is becoming more common as the 80-100 million gun owners and members of the gun culture become more politically involved.  Police officers have nothing to fear from this exercise of second amendment rights.   They need only look to the experience of game wardens to reassure themselves that these demonstrators will continue to behave safely and responsibly.

 ©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.   Link to Gun Watch

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