Former Cops: Urban Gun Violence Won’t Stop Until We End the War on Drugs
Retired Baltimore Police officers Neill Franklin and Michael Wood say President Obama’s gun reform proposals will help but still fall short of addressing the root causes of gun violence
JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: A seat next to the First Lady will remain empty during Tuesday’s State of the Union to honor shooting victims, as President Obama moves forward executive actions to address the nation’s epidemic of gun violence. He says the moves will tighten gun rules and expand background checks. He argued Congress succumbed to the influence of the powerful gun lobby rather than protect American lives through its inactions on gun laws.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Number one, anybody in the business of selling firearms must get a license and conduct background checks, or be subject to criminal prosecutions. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it over the internet, or at a gun show. It’s not where you do it, but what you do.
Second Amendment rights are important. But there are other rights that we care about as well, and we have to be able to balance them. Because our right to worship freely and safely, that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. And that was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They had rights, too.
NOOR: Well, to discuss this and more are two former police officers who have firsthand experience with the toll gun violence has taken in our society. Michael Wood is a former Marine and retired sergeant with the Baltimore City Police Department, and Neill Franklin is a 33-year law enforcement veteran with the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department. Both belong to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which Neill serves as the executive director of. And on a side note, Neill will also be a prosecution witness in the trial of So Neill and Michael, thank you both for joining us. You know, most of the national outcry around gun violence is focused on high-profile mass shootings, and less on cities like Baltimore, which is significant. What impact–and let’s start with Michael. What impact do you think Obama’s executive actions will have on cities like Baltimore coming off the heels of a year of record shootings per capita, 344 homicides. More than 900 people were shot in 2015 in Baltimore City.
MICHAEL WOOD: Well, we don’t really know, and that’s one of our longstanding problems, is that we haven’t addressed this issue. And we haven’t gotten to the heart of, of what actually does play into gun control in the actual results in the streets, because we’re not allowed to study anymore. We don’t get the actual information. And it’s going to be extremely interesting to see what happens, because in cities like Baltimore or Chicago, the guns come from outside of those areas where there’s less regulation, and then they flood the streets of the cities. So if we pass a regulation down in the surrounding areas, it should have an impact.
NOOR: And Neill, I wanted to get your response, as well.
NEILL FRANKLIN: Yeah. Well, I agree with Michael. We really don’t know. We really haven’t done the work that needs to be done. We’re so concerned about the guns, but you know, just about–there are enough guns in this country right now for just about every citizen to have one. That’s how many we have already existing. And these guns do not, they don’t just decompose within, you know, a few months, or even a few years. Many of these guns are decades old. So as long as they’re maintained they’re going to be here.
I have no problem with guns being tracked. That’s what we should do. The Second Amendment is extremely important for the citizens of this country. But tracking those guns, especially the sale of those guns, and having policies in place to restrict or prevent, or an attempt to prevent certain people, such as violent criminals and those with severe mental health issues, from possessing those guns, I think it’s a good idea. Something we should have been doing a long time ago. But at the end of the day what we’re going to have to do to reduce the shootings and the murders in a city like Baltimore, we have to address the issues of why people are shooting each other. That’s the reason.
NOOR: And so, Michael, I wanted to get your take on that issue. If the guns used in shootings in Baltimore aren’t coming from Baltimore, if they are illegal, then what kind of impact will these background checks and other measures President Obama’s put forward have?
WOOD: Well, the [inaud.] is that when they come from these areas outside that they won’t be as easy to transfer on that, you know, the gun show loophole. Where you can get these guns and they just float around. So if we can tie down where they’re actually going a little bit better, we should see less of those guns hitting the streets in Baltimore, at least over some time period. We’re not going to have [a reaction].
NOOR: So, Neill, what would, do you think, effective gun policy look like in Baltimore?
FRANKLIN: Well, I, again, I agree with tracking those guns. I agree with, when it comes to the sale of those guns, making sure that there’s certain protocol. But as we’ve seen in Maryland, even when responsible citizens go to buy guns, the process is, is so complex, and I think there’s more work than the state can handle. So there’s a certain amount of days in which that gun owner, I mean, gun shop, has to get back to the purchaser with a green light or a red light as to the sale being approved by the state. But in many cases the state cannot keep up with the amount of sales that are taking place and doing these background checks on the buyers.
So the resources also have to be in place if we’re going to have such policies. You know, but again, you know, there–this is a complex issue, and these guns come from many different places, not just inappropriate sales. Not just being transferred from one state to another, and people going to other states where you can openly buy guns and then transporting them back. But many of these guns, as we’re finding out, are stolen from responsible owners. Well, I don’t know, maybe they’re not responsible if their guns are being stolen, if they’re not being properly secured within their homes in a safe or proper lock box.
But they come from many different sources. And at the end of the day it’s going to be a very difficult thing to do, reducing the number of guns that are available to criminals who do not care about laws. You know, and anyway–and again, it’s about doing the work at the grassroots, family, community, neighborhood level. Digging down deep as to why people want to use guns to harm each other.
NOOR: And I was looking at a piece in the Washington Post that said gun manufacturers have doubled their output since 2009. There’s more guns than people in the United States today. Michael, President Obama is also asking Congress for $500 million in mental healthcare. He’s going to–he’s asking the FBI to hire 230 more employees to process background checks. Is that really going to make a dent, you think?
WOOD: We don’t really know whether it’s going to make a significant dent, enough that we’re going to see it. But we’re looking at these, kind of these little programs, and they all matter in the big picture. What we have to do is have multi-prong attacks on what our actual concerns are when it comes to gun control.
I have two major issues. We have to say black lives matter because [pointed] out the disproportionate use of force by police officers on the street, mainly from unarmed people. But we’ve got to realize that this is not just happening in urban environments, or to the black community. It’s happening around the nation. We’re seeing it more and more because cops are afraid. What are they afraid of? They’re afraid that everyone has a gun. We have saturated our market and our population with so many guns that the police are running around, afraid that everyone has a gun. So they’re shooting people that don’t have guns, because they’re so afraid.
So [when] kind of look at the angles for something like that not to occur. And the other big revelation for me was when we say that the answer to a bad guy with a gun [is] someone like me going out and killing them first, that is not a solution that’s tenable in an ethical society.
NOOR: And Neill, I wanted to get your response to that. And also, you know, talk a little bit about history. Because arguments used to be settled with fists, then with knives. And now it seems like, especially in places like Baltimore, some of these smallest disputes are being settled with guns. What can we do about that? Maybe through more of a mental health approach, or more of a comprehensive approach, talking about poverty and jobs, as well.
FRANKLIN: Yeah. Two very important areas here, and I think one of those was addressed by the president the other night. But let me begin it with, as you said, the shootings that we have in a city like Baltimore and how these disputes are now being settled. In the history of that, when you go back a few decades, and whether it’s Baltimore, Chicago, or many other cities, yes, growing up for me in Baltimore, going from East Baltimore to West Baltimore, having conflicts with people, a gun never came into the, into play. I had some fights in my childhood in Baltimore, you know, when I did–when I disagreed with someone. But a gun was never the issue.
And I think a lot of this has to do, the change that we now see, has to do with the war on drugs, where guns have become tools of the trade for these open-air drug markets, and it’s gotten to this place that all of these young men, and some women, are carrying guns in Baltimore City because of their relationship to the drug trade and the gangs that they belong to. Now when they do have a dispute, a gun is in play. Or they believe that the other person has a gun, because they’re so prevalent. So I think that’s another reason why we see the overabundance of shootings today, as compared to yesterday.
But I wanted to touch on something else real quick, regarding one of the things that the president mentioned, is many of these, these deaths at the hands of guns are suicides and accidental shootings by kids, as well, who get a hold of these guns. And we have to continue to work on technology involving these guns. I’ve been in policing for over three decades. Two–two decades ago, 25 years ago, we were talking about technology for law enforcement officers, meaning biorelated technology, meaning that, you know, I’m the only one who would be able to discharge my service weapon because of the technology involved. You know, it could be through biometrics, it could be to a particular ring that I might be wearing on my finger. There are a number of different ways that these guns can, handguns can be designed so that they can only be operated by the legal owner.
And that’s something that we need to continue to pursue, and I don’t know why that hasn’t progressed further than what it has over the past few decades. So that’s something that we need to continue to look into. But again, we already have so many guns out there in play, it’s literally going to take decades to reduce the number of functioning handguns that we have within our society. So at the same time, again, we have to address the issues of mental health. We have to address those other reasons such as the drug trade as to why people are out there shooting each other in our urban environments and communities.
And again, I agree with Michael, what he said about law enforcement. Because of this belief in the law enforcement community, our police officers are very quick to resort to deadly force using their firearms in dealing with an issue like the one we [similarly] had here in Maryland where there–I believe it was yesterday, two state troopers shot this woman in her home who, from what we initially see, it might have been suicide by cop. But she, she had a, a pellet gun or BB gun while she sat in her home.
NOOR: Well, Neill Franklin and Michael Wood, I want to thank you both for joining us.
FRANKLIN: Thanks for having me, [Jaisal].
WOOD: Thank you.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.
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