Tuesday, February 05, 2013
Gun Control: A Police Chief’s Perspective
By James Lomuscio
As state and federal legislators debate proposed gun control legislation—everything from limiting ammunition magazine capacity to reinstituting a national ban on assault weapon, which are already banned in Connecticut—Wesport Police Chief Dale Call says he spends much time on an issue much closer to home: pistol permits.
Police Chief Dale Call: Issuing pistol permits “causes the most consternation.” Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
“I think that issuing permits for chiefs of police is probably one of those things that causes the most consternation for us because we have very limited things to look at,” said Call, a 29-year veteran who took over as chief in October 2011. “And let’s face it, it’s our name that is on that permit.”
According to the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Division of the State Police, there are 719 pistol carry permits in Westport. That number is considerably less than the 900, 60-day temporary permits on file that have been signed by Westport police chiefs over the past 12 years.
The reason for the discrepancy, Call said, is not that 121 were denied permits, but that they moved out of town, and local police departments do not track permit holders who move; it is up to the permit holder to notify the state.
“There is a lot of onus placed on local police departments,” said Call, a native Westporter and 1980 Staples High School graduate whose late father, George E. Call, also served on the Westport Police Department.
He added that the state’s pistol permit application is insufficient when it comes to the category of mental health. “We don’t have a crystal ball,” he said. “The $64,000 question is how much information is too little, and how much information is too much.”
Section D on the state’s Special Licensing and Firearms Unit’s permit application asks the applicant, “Have you ever been confined to a hospital for mental illness in the past 12 months by order of a Probate Court?”
Call sees that question as incomplete.
“If you’re confined by a probate court, the state police are notified, but if you’re confined by a family member, we’re not going to have that,” Call said.
“And there are obvious differences and levels of mental illness,” he added, noting they range from mild to severe.
“It would be nice sitting on my side of the desk to know if someone applying for a pistol permit has some mental health issue that should prevent them from having a gun.”
The chief said that one acquaintance, a man who hunts and is now applying for a pistol permit, said that to get a pistol permit, “you should undergo the same psychological evaluations that police officers do.”
“The reason we do it is because our jobs require us to carry guns,” Call said.
But even if permit applicants were to undergo similar psychologcal evaluations, he added, there is never a guarantee that a life altering event would not cause one to snap.
These days Call said he may sign as many as six temporary permit in one week, other weeks none. It all depends on how long it takes to get fingerprint returns from the sate police and the FBI to determine if the applicant has any criminal convictions, he said. The maximum waiting period is eight weeks.
“These were all before Newtown,” Call said about permits recently signed.
Since the Sandy Hook massacre—following which Call joined many of his officers in volunteering their time to assist the Newtown Police Department—many gun control bills aimed at tougher laws have been proposed..
Last week, Anthony J. Salvatore, representing the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association (CPCA), announced his group would support a bill amending section 29-29 of the general statutes to extend the maximum waiting period for temporary permits from eight to 12 weeks.
The reason, he said, was to allow police the right “to request any documentation necessary to determine suitability,” including mental health issues, criminal past, drug use, military service history and “police contact with the individual.”
Salvatore said the CPCA also supports proposed legislation prohibiting pistol permits to anyone confined to hospital for psychiatric reasons over the past five years instead of the current one year. Call said it was “a step in the right direction.”
Call noted that there appears to be a spike in permit applications every four years at the time of a presidential election.The reason: some citizens fear a new president will be more gun restrictive.
Reports of home invasions, such as the Petit family murders in Cheshire, have also spurred applications in the name of home defense.
The last time a firearm was used in Westport for home defense was in 1980 when the late video arcade owner Arnold Kaye shot and killed a burglar at his Easton Road estate.
“People have to ask themselves whether or not they are prepared to take a life,” said Call, saying it is not as simple as shooting a paper target at the range.
Kaye, for one, told the now defunct Fairpress newspaper in the early 1980s that he was so troubled after having killed the career criminal dubbed “The North Shore Burglar” that he considered selling his house “because a human life is a human life.”
Those with pistol permits or who have long guns (rifles and shotguns) in their homes also raise concerns for law enforcement officials responding to domestic violence reports.
“The first question we ask is if there are firearms in the house,” said Call.
“We have the right to ask that question, but does the public who’s not responding to that situation?” Call asked.
His comment was in reference to the Rockland County, N.Y. Journal News story identifying those with who have pistol permits and where they live via an interactive map, a map now down since the recent New York State law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo protects gun owner privacy.
If parents, for example, want to know whether the house their child is visiting has guns, Call said, they should simply ask the parents of the play date.
Still, despite the an intensified focus on permit applicants, Call stressed, “People with pistol permits are not the problem; it’s the illegal guns that are the problem.
“If they have a pistol permit, it means they are complying with the law; it doesn’t mean they are out there walking around with them to rob banks,” Call said.
He added that most crimes are committed by those without permits and with unregistered guns.
Federal law enforcement officials have not stated whether the gun used by Andrew Robert Levine to kill Westport jeweler Kuti Zeevi in the commission of a robbery in December 2011 was an illegal or legal one.
Still, Call stressed that in Westport, “We don’t have a big problem with illegal guns and gun-related crime like urban areas do.”
“But then again, neither did Newtown,” he said.
In the wake of Newtown, the chief pointed out said that a lot of legislation has been put forward, some of it not well thought out, some of it thoughtful, such as many points supported by the CPCA in their testimony to the bi-partisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety.
They include closing the gun show loophole, expanding the ban and definition of assault type rifles and limiting magazines to 10.
Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) last month approved a sense of meeting resolution supporting such measures.
“I don’t see the big dilemma in closing gun show loopholes and and prohibiting 30-round magazines,” Call said. “I for one cannot see a civilian application for a 30-round magazine.”
“We don’t live in a war zone,” he added.
Comments: Comment Policy
Excellent report James. Had no idea so many concealed weapons permitted in Westport. Scary.
I know you are an expert in this area, or at least insist on making accurate statements, so my apology for correcting you, but there is no such thing as a “concealed weapons permit” in this state.
“People with pistol permits are not the problem; it’s the illegal guns that are the problem.” Excellent point Chief.
Hmm… then what does this mean?—3rd pgh—“According to the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Division of the State Police, there are 719 concealed carry pistol permits in Westport.”
The statment is incorrect, or more likely misquoted. Connecticut is an open carry state.
If you have a permit you don’t have to carry your gun concealed. To carry your gun out in the open is an incredibly stupid thing to do though. All it’s going to do is frighten people. A New Haven attorney carried his in the open in a movie theater a few months ago and the police ended up practically sending in the SWAT team to deal with him. If he had it concealed no one would have known he had it and it wouldn’t have bothered anyone.
Rick how come I’m seeing all kinds of search results on google on how to obtain a concealed carry permit in CT? And why would our respected police chief say he issues all these permits with regularity? Whatever… I’m just saying its surprising there are so many guns permitted in Westport.
I think the amount of permits for any town in any state would surprise many people. Armed citizens in this country far outnumber the people against guns. The numbers are staggering if you really look into it. The map of Westchester permit holders published, is very telling. Very few streets had less than two that indicated a permit. Remember that map just showed permits. Rifles in NYS do not need permits, so the numbers are even higher.
I am not sure other than a search for Concealed Carry Permit will always bring up what may be perceived as such. However, I do know that in CT there is no such thing. The Chief may have simply been misquoted. The CT permit says “State Permit to Carry Pistols and Revolvers.” This is a hotly contested issue on if one should do it or not – personal choice, but I can tell you that the CT State Police have issued memos, as well as many other towns on instructing their officers on what the law is, and how they should address a legally armed citizen.
Following from CTCarry.com:
There is a lot of hype and misinformation in circulation that Connecticut law ‘intends’ for permit holder’s firearm to remain concealed and that officers are free to make arrests for breach of peace or disorderly conduct.
The Connecticut General Statutes do not prescribe any method of carry, either concealed or otherwise. There is no valid charge in the Connecticut General Statutes that someone can be arrested for when a person is simply carrying a properly holstered firearm unconcealed.
The most relevant statute on the matter is CGS 29-35. Please note that it does not mention concealment or any manner of carry anywhere inside of it.
Many citizens are told by confused law enforcement officials that they could be charged if they ‘cause alarm’. Most LEOs will charge someone with Sec 53a-181. Breach of the peace in the second degree: Class B misdemeanor.
When we break this down, we have (a) which says a breach of the peace occurs when you intend to create annoyance or alarm by one of the following:
• Fighting or being violent or threatening. (Obviously does not apply)
• Assaults or strikes another. (Same)
• Threatens to commit any crime (Same)
• Uses abusive or obscene language (Same)
And then there is the last clause which I would argue also does not apply, but even if one argues that it does apply (a serious stretch), a Connecticut pistol permit holder is clearly ‘licensed and privileged’ to carry their firearm and the law is silent on how it must be carried. Both clauses have to be proven, neither would hold up in court. Neither ever have.
Several recent cases have all resulted in the dismissal of the charges. Most defendants then follow up with a civil suit on the town or city for infringement of their civil rights.
Now, is it a smart idea to open carry in CT or anywhere? I do not really know and I do not care. If people are not breaking the law then why should I care? I will say…personally I chose to blend in.
Thank you for the update Mr. Lomuscio.
I’m not quite sure I understand the “so many guns permitted in Westport” statement.
Do you mean people with permits who live in Westport or do you mean firearms actually “permitted to be owned” in Westport.
Who or why would they not be permitted? I guess anyone over the age of 21, who has taken the gun training course, done the fingerprinting and passed the background check and then paid the fee is entitled to one.
I remember when I got my permit the detective who interviewed me said that the only reason it takes 8 or so weeks is that the PD sends your fingerprints to the FBI who then feeds them into their system to check them against crime/criminal records. For the FBI to get the results is pretty quick it’s just that they are backed up processing active criminal cases so the prints for background checks get put on the back burner.
John, I’m surprised there are so many guns in Westport - period. Permitted or not. I respect your right to own a gun and I wouldn’t dream of taking it away as so many of your brethren apparently fear. I agree with you that carrying it in public is not a good thing. I believe we have a dangerous gun epidemic in this country that is a public health issue, and that gun regulations are as or more important than health regulations, driving regulations, beauty shop regulations. The Supreme Court agrees with me on this by the way. Which is why I strongly support a stringently enforced new set of gun controls—thorough and meaningful background checks. a total ban on assault-style weapons and same for high capacity ammo clips. High caliber ammo would be another nice thing to get rid of. All things being equal, and I know they never will be, if you want to shoot a gun like that you can go to a specially licensed range, or join the military. Am I clear now?
Andy, think about the numbers. Then think about how often a mass shooting crime occurs. It is akin to an airplane crash my friend. It is a horrible incident, but the truth is 50 million legal handgun owners did not kill anyone last week.
The Chief very aptly said the law-abiding gun owner is not the issue. We know where the problem is, so we should focus on the criminals. Pass laws with tougher penalties for committing a crime with a gun. Make it federal and a mandatory 5-10 years.
Gun Owners as a Percentage of Each State’s Population:
1. Wyoming - 59.7%
2. Alaska - 57.8%
3. Montana - 57.7%
4. South Dakota - 56.6%
5. West Virginia - 55.4%
6. Mississippi - 55.3%
6. Idaho - 55.3%
6. Arkansas - 55.3%
9. Alabama - 51.7%
10. North Dakota - 50.7%
11. Kentucky - 47.7%
12. Wisconsin - 44.4%
13. Louisiana - 44.1%
14. Utah - 43.9%
15. Tennessee - 43.9%
16. Oklahoma - 42.9%
17. Iowa - 42.9%
18. South Carolina - 42.3%
19. Kansas - 42.1%
20. Vermont - 42.0%
21. Missouri - 41.7%
22. Minnesota - 41.7%
23. North Carolina - 41.3%
24. Maine - 40.5%
25. Georgia - 40.3%
26. Oregon - 39.8%
27. Indiana - 39.1%
28. Nebraska - 38.6%
29. Michigan - 38.4%
30. Texas - 35.9%
31. Virginia - 35.1%
32. New Mexico - 34.8%
33. Colorado - 34.7%
34. Pennsylvania - 34.7%
35. Nevada - 33.8%
36. Washington - 33.1%
37. Ohio - 32.4%
38. Arizona - 31.1%
39. New Hampshire - 30.0%
40. Delaware - 25.5%
41. Florida - 24.5%
42. California - 21.3%
43. Maryland - 21.3%
44. Illinois - 20.2%
45. New York - 18%
46. Connecticut - 16.7%
47. Rhode Island - 12.8%
48. Massachusetts - 12.6%
49. New Jersey - 12.3%
50. Hawaii - 6.7%
Think about Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Columbine, etc..etc..etc… and the next one, and the one after that.
Yes…all at the hand of mentally disturbed people who broke the law.
Each year, 10,000 people die in an automobile accident related to alcohol. Where is the outcry to outlaw cars – or is it driving, or alcohol, or is it the bars where they serve, alcohol…is it related to New Year’s Eva parties, or Fourth of July? Should we get rid of everything so each and every person can be happy and not affected?
Of course that is a ridiculous argument…and so is the one that says more gun restrictions will stop the next mass shooting.
No one will change your mind on this that I know. Nevertheless, the idea to get rid of the guns is simply an unreasonable approach that will lead to getting nothing accomplished.
Before my last word on this thread…
Thanks to the WPD for meeting the state mandated 8-week turn around. I am quite certain it is not an easy task, but your upholding the law is greatly appreciated.
...my last word on this thread.
I think CT has a pretty good system for handguns. A safety training course, an interview with a detective, a full FBI background check including fingerprinting and a five year permit.
As a legal and responsible gun owner I really wouldn’t care if they made you do all this for long guns as well. I see no need for high capacity magazines. The only purpose they seem to serve is to stay alive in combat or for lunatics to use in these mass shootings. “Assault style weapons” are a different thing. I have no desire to own one. I like sporting arms not military arms. The problem is that no one can say what an “assault style weapon” is. I can take my nice Ruger 10/22 (.22 semi-auto rifle that almost any kid who ever went to camp has fired) with a wood stock and make it an “assault type weapon”. If I put a folding stock on it, a bayonet lug (not even a bayonet) and a thing on the end of the barrel it suddenly becomes an “assault type weapon” but it’s still the same Ruger 10/22 that it was but it looks “scarier”.
As for high caliber ammunition I don’t even know what that means. Most of these rifles that everyone hates shoots .223 caliber. The military started using .223 because it was easier for 18 year old recruits to handle. .223 is a mid-caliber ammo that was (is) used for varmint hunting. Guys use it to shoot coyotes though usually not from a “scary” looking rifle. Previous to the .223 almost all military rifles used .30 caliber. .30 is good out to about 600 yards. The military stopped using .30 caliber because they realized most engagements were within 100 yards.
My deer rifle shoots .30-06. Almost every deer hunter uses some form of .30 caliber ammunition.
I do think there should be strict limits on who can own firearms and how they store them. What I hate to see is all these bizarre legislative proposals from people who know absolutely nothing about firearms.
I’ve told my wife that if I ever owned a gun store it would be bankrupt really quick. Before I even started the background check I would want to sit down with the customer over a cup of coffee for a good long time to figure out why they wanted to buy a gun.
We do not have a dangerous gun epidemic. We have a dangerous PEOPLE and mental health epidemic, as well as ‘flaws’ in the system. Stricter laws on the guns themselves and their respective ammo/magazines are not going to change a single thing. Look at past shootings and the weapons used. The Police Officer in this link explains it EXCEPTIONALLY well.
All of these efforts should be directed towards better background checks, screenings, mental/psychological exams, and procedural overhauls for pistol permit applications. In addition, much stricter penalties for firearms related crimes. This includes legal permit holders who violate laws, i.e. not securing, leaving in vehicles, brandishing in public, per the Middletown incident over the weekend. That being said, clearly it’s the NON-permit holders we have to worry about here.
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