Minneapolis police chief: More guns? Frankly, that's preposterous

  • Article by: TIMOTHY J. DOLAN
  • Updated: February 1, 2011 - 6:43 PM

Statistics show that it's exactly the wrong strategy for America.

Minneapolis Police Chief Timothy Dolan, left, and Mayor R.T. Rybak
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Minneapolis Police Chief Timothy Dolan, left, and Mayor R.T. Rybak

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It confounds me, in light of the Tucson tragedy and the fatal shootings already this year of more than 10 police officers, that gun advocates are claiming that we would be safer with more guns.

The National Rifle Association's arguments and statistics purporting that more guns are the reason for violent crime drops in the United States are not supported by any research, and we, as a country, have only dropped from ridiculously high gun homicide numbers to what should still be very embarrassing numbers in a free nation.

I have spent the last two weekends with the top law-enforcement professionals and criminologists of the United States. No one can say exactly what is bringing overall reductions in violent crime, but we all concur that there have been many contributing efforts.

Communities are better organized to work with troubled youths and against violence.

Police are doing a better job targeting and arresting violent offenders. Doctors and medics are saving more shooting victims, and new and better technologies are contributing to all of the above and to our day-to-day safety.

If law-enforcement professionals believed that guns were the answer to reducing crime, your nation's police chiefs would be leading the charge for more guns. Here are some well-known facts you will not hear from the NRA:

• Fewer than 1 percent of gun deaths in the United States involve self-defense. The majority are homicides, suicides and accidents.

• Epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that those without guns are four times safer than those with guns when confronted by an armed assailant.

• Gun death rates are highest in the states with the highest ratios of gun ownership.

• Fatal police shootings increased last year by 40 percent.

•Of the 23 highest-income-per-capita countries in the world, the United States has 80 percent of all gun deaths. The U.S. gun homicide rate is 20 times higher than that of the rest of the sample.

As the last point clearly demonstrates, claiming that more guns make us safer ignores the obvious. Cities with populations in the millions in Canada, England, France, Sweden and elsewhere have annual homicide rates comparable to U.S. cities that are a tenth of their size.

One of the starkest contrasts may be the comparison of Windsor, Ontario, with Detroit. The two cities are actually connected by bridge and tunnel. Windsor, a city of about 200,000 residents struggling with large unemployment issues, had absolutely no homicides last year and one in the last two years.

Detroit had more than 360 just last year and boasted a reduction from the previous year.

Another telling statistic we use in law enforcement is the street price of illegal items such as stolen guns and narcotics. The street price reflects their general availability.

In Canada, the street price for a handgun is about $1,500 (the majority which are smuggled from the United States), compared to $100 here.

If the facts are so obvious, why is it so hard for the United States to make changes?

Among the impediments are that we view gun ownership as an individual right and that gun violence has not yet become so unacceptable that we would impinge on those rights for the common good. In short, we accept a certain level of gun violence.

To me, this is a problem when we consider who the "usual" victims of gun violence are. They are our poor, underprivileged and largely minority communities. Their already weaker political voice is overwhelmed by the influence of NRA rhetoric and dollars.

It gets to the point of being ridiculous when you see elected representatives stammering to justifying 30-round handgun magazines for the general public and advocating for guns in schools.

This week, I joined other major city chiefs in Washington, D.C. We discussed gun violence and the need for reasonable controls and oversight, and we talked about the influence of the NRA.

We brought our concerns to our elected officials in Washington. I did not know that the same discussion was going to be taking place in the Minnesota House. I would have liked to have been there as well.

As you may have guessed, police chiefs are not liked by the NRA or its supporters. But chiefs are actually accountable for public safety, and we have a responsibility to advocate strongly for what we believe is the common good.

Wouldn't be nice if we all could?

Timothy J. Dolan is chief of the Minneapolis Police Department.

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Minneapolis Police Chief Timothy Dolan, left, and Mayor R.T. Rybak