#15: Law Enforcement Perspective

Table of Contents:

Law Enforcement Perspective On Campus Shootings
Firearms Restraining Orders
International Association of Chiefs of Police
Rand Corporation Study—Law Enforcement Approaches for Reducing Gun Violence
When Stand Your Ground Meets Blue Lives Matter
SYG Draws Fire From Prosecutors and Police
Conclusions by the American Journal of Public Health—April 2021
The Duty To Retreat

Law Enforcement Perspective On Campus Shootings

Guns on American campuses were never a one-sided triangle. There have always been three sides—shooters—students—and police officers. Shooters claim justification and stand their ground. Students scream why is this happening. Law enforcement shows up, sometimes putting themselves in harm’s way to do their job. Over the last twenty-one years, the consequences were sad, profound, and surprisingly consistent. The academic community, the victims, and law enforcement all wanted it to end. They were largely of one mind—gun violence kills more than just students—it kills the future.

The 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida stirred two of the three sides to urge the passage of a host of new gun control laws. Naturally, shooters opposed changes—they won’t retreat—just reload. The possible changes included: [1]

  1. Raising the age of purchasing rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21
  2. Mandating a 3-day waiting period on the sale of rifles and shotguns
  3. Barring violent and unstable people arrested for certain crimes from owning guns
  4. Increasing funding for mental health services and reporting
  5. Improving the threat reporting process
  6. Instituting annual threat assessments for schools
  7. Establishing red flag laws, allowing authorities to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from persons suspect of being a danger to themselves and others
  8. Banning Bump Stocks (they were not used in this particular incident, but in the 2017 Vegas mass shooting)
  9. Providing funding for schools to hire more School Resource Officers and Security Personnel
  10. Funding a “school marshal” program to arm teachers.
  11. On the federal level, Congress passed the 2018 Stop the Violence Act, which funded numerous school safety initiatives such as increasing metal detectors in schools and improving security training.

Law enforcement is not anti-gun; it does its job with guns. We want them to be well armed and use their guns with discretion and good judgment. That is why law enforcement, writ large, is anti-gun violence. The U.S. Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice sponsored a study on school security titled, A Comprehensive Report on School Safety Technology.[2] The grant was to assist school officials in making informed decisions about technology for increasing school security. The final report was clear, “There is no one universal plan for school security. Each school or school district must assess the current situation, including the risks and issues that need to be addressed. Technology decisions should then be made according to these distinctive needs and in compliance with relevant laws and regulations.”[3] That was a good start.

Firearms Restraining Orders

Some state legislatures acted in response to the dramatic rise in the number of mass shootings between 2000 and 2018. Illinois passed the Firearms Restraining Order Act allowing court orders to be issued against someone deemed to be a threat to themselves or to others—known as Red Flag laws. It allowed police and others to seek orders of protection to take away the guns from someone found to pose “an immediate and present danger” to themselves or to others.[4]

Connecticut may have been the first to enact a firearms removal law. Their law allows a state’s attorney, or any two police officers, to file a complaint for seizure of a firearm or ammunition when they have probable cause to believe that: (a) A person poses a risk of imminent personal injury to himself, herself or others. (b) The person possesses one or more firearms. (c) The firearm is within or upon any place, thing or person.[5]

The Giffords Law Center provides an exhaustive list of states that have passed laws known as “Extreme Risk Protection Orders.” These orders provide a proactive way to temporarily restrict a person showing clear warning signs of violence from accessing firearms. It is widely known that in many instances of gun violence, family members or friends noticed warning signs that people close to them were at significant risk of harming themselves or others. But they are also often unable to resolve dangerous situations. Accordingly, states have enacted lifesaving tools that can prevent gun tragedies before they occur. Law enforcement agencies can petition courts for civil orders that will temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms before they commit violence.[6]

As of January 1, 2021, eighteen states have enacted laws designed to disrupt gun violence in schools. Florida is one of the eighteen. However its law only allows law enforcement or other state officials to file petitions.[7]

International Association of Chiefs of Police

The International Association of Chiefs of Police has long held positions intended to reduce and
prevent firearms violence. “As law enforcement professionals, it is our duty to protect and serve our
communities and display the leadership needed to ensure public safety. The IACP supports
legislation and policies that seek to improve the safety of our communities, which in turn enhances the
safety of law enforcement officers. The level of firearm-related injuries and deaths in the United States, which includes homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings, is unacceptable and demands immediate attention. Since 2000, over 500,000 Americans have lost their lives to firearms violence, which averages to over 31,000 firearm deaths per year. While acts of terrorism and mass shootings receive the most media coverage, gun violence claims lives every day in cities and towns throughout the United States. Acknowledging that any death by a firearm is equally tragic, regardless of the cause, the call to action remains the same – to safeguard the public and those who put their lives on the line each day to ensure the safety and wellbeing of communities.”[8]

Rand Corporation Study—Law Enforcement Approaches for Reducing Gun Violence

In April 2020, the Rand Corporation released a comprehensive study titled, “Law Enforcement Approaches for Reducing Gun Violence.” The Summary is brief. “Law enforcement agencies use a range of reactive and proactive strategies to respond to and prevent gun crime. While the rate of violent crimes committed with guns has declined substantially over the past 30 years, more research is needed on which approaches are most effective at reducing gun crime.”[9]

The conclusions reached are not promising. “We have reviewed a range of reactive and proactive law enforcement approaches to enforce gun laws and to respond to and prevent gun crime. The research in this space is rather uneven. Although we have a general sense that law enforcement deserves some credit for the drop in the number of homicides committed with guns, very little is known about the exact mechanisms through which standard law enforcement practices, such as enforcement of gun ownership laws or investigations of violent crimes committed with guns, might affect rates of criminal misuse of guns and violent crimes committed with guns. As a result, we do not have strong evidence for the best approaches to improving case clearance. The evidence for the mechanisms behind proactive policing is stronger, and the recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2018) evaluation was cautiously optimistic about these approaches, particularly in the short term.”[10]

When Stand Your Ground Meets Blue Lives Matter

Police officers have extremely difficult and dangerous jobs. One Florida case highlighted both the difficulty and the irony. Florida has some of the most gun-friendly statutes in the country. At the NRA’s urging, they essentially invented the Stand Your Ground law. They were the first state to abandon the traditional common law obligation to retreat when confronted. They knowingly allow use of deadly force whenever the person “reasonably feels” it is necessary to prevent imminent bodily injury, or forcible felony, wherever the person is. In the process, it strengthened and codified the traditional “castle doctrine” that permits lethal force to defend one’s home or others. Those changes, albeit politically motivated, came back to bite some Florida police officers.

In 2015, a Florida man engaged in a forty-round gunfight with plainclothes deputies of the Brevard Sheriff’s Office. The officers tried to arrest the man’s adult niece at his home, where she lived. The officers wanted to arrest her following an undercover sting operation. He said he thought they were intruders trying to kidnap her. One deputy was severely injured but survived. Florida charged him with first-degree felony attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. He used Florida’s Stand Your Ground law contending it afforded him immunity from prosecution. The Florida Court of Appeals agreed, holding he could claim immunity under the Stand Your Ground law.[11]

SYG Draws Fire From Prosecutors and Police

In 2021, after Ohio passed a SYG law, it drew fire from law enforcement. “Prosecutors around Ohio and the Fraternal Order of Police are not too happy about a controversial law that changes Ohio’s ‘stand your ground’ policy. Ohio Senate Bill 175 expanded the criteria for when a person can use a firearm in self-defense without retreating. This disappoints the Prosecutors Association of Ohio. We always felt that it was a good policy to require people to take an opportunity to retreat before using force if it was reasonable for them to do so . . . The enactment of this is a blow to public safety in Ohio and a blow to using our justice system as a way of establishing the truth. . . The unfortunate result is that it will be more difficult to hold some bad actors accountable. . . the new law will allow a person to be able to use deadly force even when it can be avoided. . . Juries will be asked to decide whether the use of force was necessary but this law specifically prohibits them from considering whether the person who used force could have safely walked away . . . We should want juries to have as much truthful information as possible in a truth-based justice system, and yet this law prevents that . . . the new law is ‘ridiculous.’”[12]

Conclusions by the American Journal of Public Health—April 2021

The AJPH is unquestionably one of the most dedicated and reliable reporters on how laws improve or degrade public health. Its 2021 study examined the effects that laws expanding civilian rights to use deadly force in self-defense have had on gun violence and crime.[13]

“Self-defense laws have rapidly changed in the United States with the introduction of SYG laws in the past 15 years. Expanding civilian rights to use deadly force in self-defense outside the home has been associated with modest increases in violent crime rates on average across the United States but robust increases in some states, most notably Florida. There are racial inequities in the application of SYG laws to self-defense cases, at least in Florida, with cases involving racial minority victims ruled justifiable more often, accounting for case characteristics like firearm use. . . Our findings demonstrate the importance of using scientific evidence on both population and equity impacts of self-defense laws to guide legislative action that promotes public health and safety for all.”

At the risk of understating the harm wrought by SYG, the public health issue is frustrating. The actors in expanding self-defense are political. The public health issue is apolitical. The negative impact on people of color is ignored in conservative states and insufficiently investigated in centrist states. There is only one winner in advocating SYG in America—the gun industry.

The Duty To Retreat

Given the haste to enact SYG laws since Florida initiated the rush in 2005, it seems odd that some states still adhere to the antiquated notion that there is such a thing as a duty to retreat. More formally known as the Castle Doctrine, the duty still exists in some places. “A castle doctrine is a self-defense law that states that a person’s home (sometimes also a place of work or vehicle) is a place that grants one protections and immunities from prosecution in certain circumstances to use force or deadly force to defend oneself against an intruder. There is no duty to retreat from the situation in one’s home (or workplace or vehicle if applicable) before using force, but there may be a duty to retreat in a public place.”[14]

In Castle Doctrine states, you cannot harm another person, even in self-defense, in a public place when it is “possible to retreat from a threatening situation to a place of safety.”[15] Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Nebraska, and North Dakota do not require a defender to retreat when in the workplace. Twenty-three other states still have versions of the Castle Doctrine in place. “They vary lightly from state to state. with some states narrowing their right to use deadly force against an intruder. For example, in some states, you must prove that an intruder was attempting to commit a felony. In other states, it is limited to only when a person is in his or her vehicle. North Carolina has a broad version of the castle doctrine. It states that a person who “unlawfully and forcibly” enters one’s home, workplace, or car is presumed to intend violence and harm, and therefore it is easy to establish self-defense. Illinois’s version of the castle doctrine has more restrictions. The castle doctrine for Illinois does not include one’s workplace or vehicle. Additionally, one can only use deadly force if an intruder is committing a felony or enters the home in a “violent, riotous or tumultuous manner.”[16]

Madame Wiki recognizes the concept. “In law, the duty to retreat, or requirement of safe retreat, is a legal requirement in some jurisdictions that a threatened person cannot harm another in self-defense, especially lethal force, when it is possible to instead retreat to a place of safety. This requirement contrasts with the right in some other jurisdictions to stand one’s ground, meaning being allowed to defend one’s self instead of retreating.”[17]

[1] https://www.shotspotter.com/blog/a-law-enforcement-perspective-we-need-more-than-gun-control-laws/

[2] https://nij.ojp.gov/library/publications/comprehensive-report-school-safety-technology

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=3877&ChapterID=39

[5] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-38c(a).

[6] https://giffords.org/lawcenter/gun-laws/policy-areas/who-can-have-a-gun/extreme-risk-protection-orders/

[7] Fla. Stat. § 790.401(1)(a), (2)(a).

[8] https://www.theiacp.org/sites/default/files/2019-05/IACP%20Firearms%20Position%20Paper_2018%20(1).pdf

[9] Samuel Peterson, Shawn Bushway, April 22, 2020. https://www.rand.org/research/gun-policy/analysis/essays/law-enforcement-approaches-for-reducing-gun-violence.html

[10] Ibid.

[11] https://law.justia.com/cases/florida/fifth-district-court-of-appeal/2020/5d19-0802.html

[12] https://www.vindy.com/news/local-news/2021/02/new-stand-your-ground-law-draws-fire-from-prosecutors-police/

[13] Alexa R. Yakubovich PhD, Michelle Degli Esposti PhD, Brittany C. L. Lange PhD, G. J. Melendez-Torres PhD, Alpa Parmar PhD, Douglas J. Wiebe PhD, and David K. Humphreys PhD. https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2020.306101

[14] https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/castle-doctrine-states

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duty_to_retreat

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