How Can Anyone Oppose Letting Retired Police Carry Guns?

Chicago continues to have more murders than any other U.S. city--a murder rate greater than any of the 10 largest cities in the country. Only five states have a higher murder rate than Illinois. Yet Gov. Blagojevich, who faces a large state budget deficit, threatens to veto a bill letting retired police officers help patrol neighborhoods for free.

Illinois is one of only four states that do not trust retired police officers to carry guns. In fact, Illinois is one of only four states that ban every single citizen from carrying concealed handguns. The state Senate wants to change this situation, if only for police. By an overwhelming 40-12 vote, the Illinois Senate last week passed such a bill, though it still contained among the most stringent requirements anywhere. To get a permit a person must:

  • have 10 years of experience as a police officer or as a military police officer
  • have graduated from a police academy or training institute
  • hold a valid firearm-owner's card.

But how can anyone oppose letting retired police carry guns? We trust police when they are on the job. Research, including my own, shows that police are the single most important factor for reducing crime. But somehow, an officer we trusted for 10 years is no longer trusted the day he retires.

Blagojevich's concern? He claims that adopting the bill will lead ''inexorably toward concealed carry laws'' for all Illinois residents. Obviously, ''slippery slopes'' are not just the concerns of those who want to keep guns.

Don't worry though. Illinois isn't going to become like its neighbors--Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, Missouri or Iowa--any time soon. Surely not another Indiana, where any law-abiding citizen 18 or older who passes a criminal background check and pays a $25 fee can carry a concealed handgun. Some 311,000 Indianans have permits, and no training is required.

One wonders how Blagojevich can sleep at night if he seriously worries that requiring 10 years as a police officer and graduation from a police academy is just a short step from letting anyone carry a concealed handgun with just a criminal background check.

Blagojevich's initial threats to veto any concealed carry bill for police changed this week to threatening a veto if military police veterans are allowed to carry guns. It is hard to take this new concern seriously. Besides the obvious safety record these military police have demonstrated with guns, probably no more than a thousand military veterans will even qualify to carry a concealed handgun, and it is safe to assume that only a fraction of those would bother to apply. Illinois has 1 million veterans, but only about 100,000 served for at least 10 years and fewer than 1 percent of soldiers would have served as military police for that whole period.

Exactly what Blagojevich is worried about seems a bit of a mystery, and his position on guns is changing daily. His flip-flops are not just limited to allowing police to carry guns. Over the last week, Blagojevich first supported lowering the age at which gun permits can be obtained, down to 18. Then--when gun control advocates got angry--he said he will support the bill only if a large number of semi-automatic handguns, rifles and shotguns were also banned. Of course, this is nothing new. As a congressman from Chicago, he had one of the most consistent gun control records in Congress, but he ran for governor distributing camouflage-colored ''Hunters for Blagojevich'' bumper stickers and promising that he would be sensitive to their views on guns.

News reports quote gun-control advocates as saying Blagojevich is purposefully trying to complicate the gun issue so much that nothing passes, thus allowing Blagojevich ''to blame a do-nothing legislature and claim to each side that he tried to champion their cause.''

All this is a dangerous game. Today even more than usual is at stake. Post-Sept. 11, terrorist threats have greatly increased the demands that states and cities cover all the possible vulnerable targets. The federal government advises us to be observant and report strange events to police. But there is not always time to call 911 and wait for the cavalry to arrive. With 40,000 to 50,000 retired local, state and federal law enforcement officers living in Illinois, this legislation could help provide well-trained individuals who may already be at the scene.

Blagojevich may honestly believe that political stalemate serves his interests, but murders and other violent crimes continue unabated.

Illinois neither allows retired police to serve as unpaid undercover cops as they travel around town, nor does Illinois let citizens protect themselves. When will Chicago and the rest of Illinois realize that when you ban guns, it is the law-abiding citizens, such as these retired cops, not the criminals, who obey the law?

John R. Lott Jr. is a resident scholar at AEI.

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