Armed Citizens, Unarmed LEOs, and Putnam County, New YorkI distinctly recall two incidents. Both took place in the early 1990s, after the passage of the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 which was a part of the Crime Control Act of 1990. Each conversation was short, but reflected an amazing clarity of purpose even if devoid of logic. I recognized both moments as a turning point in our efforts to combat crime with rational methods and analysis. For the first time in my life, twice within a few months, I heard that the armed LEO was the problem.

I was working in Crime Prevention/ Public Relations and within the Training Division of my department. As part of my duties, I routinely attended meetings of community groups, school events, and corporations. I was often in uniform, but attended many events in a coat and tie. At all times, I made it clear that I was a LEO. That was my job; to let people know the police were involved in their community.

In the first incident, I was working with a domestic violence advocacy group brainstorming about ways to help victims stay safe when they left the shelter. When I volunteered the resources of the department through the handgun safety course, the silence was deafening. I was summarily told that these unfortunate women who were removed from potentially lethal environments would not be encouraged to own a firearm to protect themselves and their children.

“Why,” I asked. “Because of the gun/violence connection,” was the answer. When I followed up to ask if the firearm on my hip (I was in full uniform) represented violence or security to the people attending this work session, their silence answered my question. Our department was not asked to participate in any further sessions. My department made more DV arrests than any other in the county.

In the second incident, I entered a high school, again in full uniform, to speak to a class. I met with an administrator who agreed to walk me to the classroom. As she looked at me, she asked me why I was wearing a firearm in the building when “they just passed that new ‘no gun in schools’ law.”

As a trainer, I took this as a teaching moment and explained that the law did not apply to LEOs. She responded that she was not sure if she was “comfortable” with me carrying a gun in the school. I explained that I would be happy to leave mine in the trunk if her students would do the same. Needless to say, I was escorted to the classroom. I sat in the chief’s office a few days later; totally worth it, by the way.

The notion that gun control will not affect LEOs is nonsense. Twenty years ago, people were blaming the gun for violence irrespective of who controlled the weapon. We are seeing the same arguments now, on a widespread basis, through the people who actually argue that schools would not be safer with the presence of an armed LEO. All LEOs in the United States should take notice. In the eyes of a growing number of people, you are not part of the solution…if you carry a firearm with you as part of your duties. I have been forced to intervene several times for LEOs who were told to leave establishments while in uniform because they were armed. As we saw recently in an Illinois Denny’s Restaurant, these are not isolated incidents.

The presence of a firearm prevents crime. In fact, a Loganville, Georgia woman recently shot an intruder who entered her home during the day while she was home with her children. She retreated to an attic and when the intruder entered the attic, she shot him.

As all LEOs know, burglars do not enter obviously occupied houses, do not search for people, and do not go to the attic looking to steal. Without the firearm, this would have ended in a tragedy for that family. The perpetrator was reportedly released from prison in August. Shocking, I know.

For over 40 years, I have been reading news clips of stories throughout the United States about people who used firearms to prevent or stop robberies, rapes, home invasions, assaults, and burglaries. I receive an average of twenty of these stories per month. Sometimes the gun was never fired but the perpetrator abandoned his illegal pursuits anyway. In other stories, the perpetrator’s criminal propensities were abruptly and involuntarily terminated: with extreme prejudice.

You too can receive this monthly list. Just join the group that has been training LEOs, pushing for mandatory jail sentences for anyone who uses any firearm during the commission of any crime, preventing the parole and release of violent offenders and provides a death benefit for fallen LEOs killed in the line of duty: the National Rifle Association. The news stories are part of the monthly magazines, the American Hunter and the American Rifleman, called the Armed Citizen.

So what has everyone in Putnam County New York upset and what does that have to do with LEOs? Well, apparently The Westchester Journal News wants to release the names of law-abiding Putnam County citizens who legally possess a pistol permit. The newspaper already published the names of similar residents of Westchester and Rockland Counties.

The clerk of Putnam County is refusing to comply with the open records law and will not provide the names. In a curious turn of events, the newspaper hired armed guards at their offices because they were concerned for their safety. Apparently, some armed citizens are OK.

Putnam County citizens are concerned that the release of their names and addresses will lead to a public backlash or expose them to criminal activity. This is the same concern around the United States of people who are concerned about legislation that will require the registration of gun owners or firearms. People fear that registration will lead to confiscation. That fear is based on the actions of the governments in England and Australia. However, LEOs need not worry about such new legislation.

LEOs are known to be armed. Their names and addresses are public information available to anyone who wants to work the internet. As discussed above, many people do not want you carrying a firearm on their property and see firearms in the hands of LEOs as part of the problem. New legislation will not be needed to restrict the rights of LEOs to carry firearms. It could happen tomorrow.

When I was a child, I respected LEOs. I felt safe around them. I knew that they would protect me if something happened while they were present. I knew if I called them, they would respond and put their lives in danger to keep me safe. I knew they would be armed when they showed up. In fact, I expected it.

If we have reached a point where people are outwardly saying that the public is less safe in the presence of an armed LEO, then all LEOs need to take notice. We will have the honor and privilege of protecting and serving our communities only as long as we earn it. Stand up. Speak up. Do not let anyone take your right to defend yourself, your fellow LEOs and your community by limiting your Second Amendment rights.

Consider that in every community, every day, there is a mother home with her children who respects LEOs but recognizes that she has an obligation to protect herself and her children. You cannot advocate for a restriction of her Second Amendment rights without jeopardizing your own.

Lance LoRusso is an attorney, former LEO and founder of LoRusso Law Firm, PC in Marietta, Georgia.  He is the General Counsel for the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police and author of a blog, www.bluelinelawyer.com.  He speaks at many conferences for law enforcement on use of force, responses to critical incident, and other topics of interest to law enforcement. His book on critical incidents entitled, “When Cops Kill: The Aftermath of a Critical Incident” is available at www.booklogix.com. Profits from this book will support law enforcement charities. You can follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (bluelinelawyer or lancelorusso).