A Goal We Can Agree On: Keep Guns Out of the Wrong Hands

James Johnson

Chief Jim Johnson is being honored as a Gun Violence Prevention Champion of Change.

For law enforcement, preventing gun violence is not a political or partisan issue; it is a grave matter of public safety. We know from experience that there is an urgent need to keep guns out of dangerous handsa goal everyone should be able to support.

I am Chief of Police for Baltimore County, Maryland, and also Chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence (“the Partnership”). We are an alliance of nine national law enforcement leadership organizations working together to reduce gun crime against our citizens and our officers. The Partnership includes:

  • Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA);
  • Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association (HAPCOA);
  • International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA);
  • International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP);
  • Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA);
  • National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE);
  • National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE);
  • Police Executive Research Forum (PERF); and
  • Police Foundation (PF).

Every member of the Partnership agrees that public safety is served when gun sales involve a background check. For the last 20 years, the landmark Brady Law has required nationwide background checks for gun purchases through federally licensed firearm dealers. Unquestionably, this law has been a tremendous public safety success.

The Brady Law focuses on a specific, critical goal—preventing gun sales to those not legally permitted to possess them, including criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. Since the Brady Law was enacted in 1994, background checks have stopped more than two million prohibited persons from buying firearms.  While there is no way to quantify how many lives have been saved since the law took effect, it is obvious that more than two million guns in the wrong hands is a recipe for more than two million disasters.

But the Brady Law applies only when a sale occurs through a federally licensed dealer, and the fact is that up to 40 percent of firearm purchases occur between private parties where no background check is required under federal law. As we in law enforcement have been warning, that is tantamount to allowing 40 percent of passengers to board an airplane without undergoing any screening. The honor system would not work at airports and does not work when it comes to buying guns.

As public safety professionals, we see daily the devastation caused by gun crime. Across America, gun violence claims more than 30 lives each day. Law enforcement officers not only risk their own lives to protect the public, they are increasingly the targets of gun violence. Ambushes of police have risen dramatically and were the leading cause of fatal shootings of officers for two years in a row, in 2012 and 2013. This cannot continue.

We may not be able to eliminate all gun violence, but that shouldn’t mean we do nothing.

I am honored to receive this recognition as a White House Champion of Change. Speaking out on solutions to the problem of gun violence is something I feel compelled to do as a public safety professional. To make my community and communities across the nation safer, I have been doing all I can to better inform the public debate and share law enforcement’s expertise with the public and policymakersin my own community, in Maryland, and nationally.

All Americans, including our youngest citizens, should be able to grow up and fulfill their roles in the great human experience. None of us can fail them. We should take the obvious and reasonable step of requiring background checks for all sales. This is not just common senselives depend on it.

Jim Johnson is the Chief of Police for Baltimore County, MD and Chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, a coalition of nine national law enforcement leadership organizations concerned about the unacceptable level of gun violence in the U.S.

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