As the country mourns mass shooting victims killed in recent weeks, Congress is working fast to create bipartisan common-sense gun legislation.
If legislation is passed, what could it mean for law enforcement?
“Would these common-sense measures save the lives of police officers and others in your community?” Carolyn B. Maloney, chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, asked Buffalo Police Chief Joseph Gramaglia Wednesday.
“It absolutely would,” he said.
Mass shooter Payton S. Gendron, 18, murdered 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket on May 14, including 55-year-old former Buffalo Police Officer Aaron Statler, who was working as a security guard at the store. Ten days later, Salvador Ramos – another 18-year-old mass shooter – murdered 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Since the tragedy, police response to the Uvalde shooting has been criticized.
On June 1, Michael Louis fatally shot four people in a Tulsa medical building. Just this weekend, three people were killed and another 11 were injured during a mass shooting in Philadelphia. As of Wednesday, 18-year-old Quran Garner was in custody for that shooting.
Layers of protection
Data scientist Sheldon H. Jacobson, Director of the Simulation and Optimization Laboratory at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, discussed the potential impact new gun laws could have on law enforcement this week with Audacy.
“The fact is, this is a situation that we are entering in without really knowing what the unintended consequences of any changes in policy are,” he said.
Much of Jacobson’s research is focused on “data driven risk-based decision making under uncertainty.” His work was used to develop the Transportation Security Agency’s PreCheck, a screening program that makes risk assessments about passengers before their arrival at an airport checkpoint.
Jacobson believes that lessons from the world of aviation security could be applied to gun legislation nationwide.
“What’s right about aviation security is that they use multiple layers,” he said. “So, if you think of a piece of swiss cheese, you can actually focus on the holes. But, if you take a second piece and put it around it, and a third piece and a fourth – eventually if you put enough pieces of swiss cheese down, and as long as you don’t line them up exactly – what you’re going to end up with is a fairly durable protection.”
Knowing who has guns
When TSA PreCheck was introduced in 2011, it included an important layer, according to Jacobson. This layer classifies “known travelers” to the TSA, who can then use a different set of protocols with those passengers based on a risk assessment.
“Ultimately, it’s not the people who are law abiding citizens who own a gun that are the problem," Jacobson explained. “It’s the ones that are in fact hiding it, who are unknown that are really the issue.”
For example, Illinois gun owners are required to get a license and pass a background check. However, guns enter the state from other states with more relaxed laws.
“In terms of law enforcement, this is also something we also have to think about,” Jacobson said of the importance of layering methods to reduce gun violence. “Because they’re living under certain conditions that means that anybody could be in fact in possession of a firearm.”
According to NPR, current gun legislation negotiations in the Senate consist of “a slim set of proposals,” that include “red flag laws” that would allow law enforcement to remove guns from potentially dangerous owners, standards for gun storage, federal support for mental health programs, and an expansion of federal background checks. Senators are hoping to finalize an agreement by the end of the week.
“I’ve never been part of negotiations as serious as these. There are more Republicans at the table talking about changing our gun laws and investing in mental health than at any time since Sandy Hook,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), referring to the 2012 elementary school shooting in his state. “Now, I’ve also been part of many failed negotiations in the past, so I’m sober minded about our chances. We’re talking about a meaningful change in our gun laws, a major investment in mental health, perhaps some money for school security, that would make a difference.”
In a recent interview with NPR, Art Acevedo, a former police chief of Austin, Houston and Miami, said trying to keep people protected with the existing U.S. gun laws is like “trying to keep the American people safe with one hand behind your back.”
“We need to do a much better job,” he said. “We need some political courage.” Like Jacobson, Acevedo wants to see measures that would keep “weapons in the hands of law-abiding Americans with sound minds.”
He would also support laws limiting the sale of assault rifles, such as the AR-15 used in the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, to people older than 21.
“We know that there’s a law that would have made a difference in Buffalo and Uvalde,” Acevedo said.
Jacobson said that an estimated 40,000 people die every year at the hands of a firearm.
Although Jacobson said that no one solution, or even group of solutions, is guaranteed to completely eradicate gun violence, he thinks reasonable measures should reduce the number of tragedies and help law enforcement.
“Let’s take appropriate steps forward so we can improve the situation,” said Jacobson, who also recommended that people try to be “kinder and gentler” to each other as we continue to work through difficult times.