Las Vegas Sun

October 16, 2018

Currently: 64° — Complete forecast

EDITORIAL:

Officers staring down the barrel of political cowardice

In Las Vegas, two security guards at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur are shot and killed by a man who then tries to break into two nearby homes before shooting himself in the head.

The next day, in Denver, a sheriff’s deputy is killed and four more are wounded after responding to a domestic disturbance.

This is how 2017 ended in the United States. The last weekend of the year brought yet more tragic reminders of how the nation’s epidemic of gun violence is plaguing Americans, particularly those whose job is to help protect others.

According to data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 47 sworn officers were killed on duty in gun-related incidents in 2017.

As for security officers, comprehensive data is hard to find. However, a partial list maintained by Private Officer International Security Police Association showed at least 34 officers were killed by gunfire last year.

The fallen security officers included Erick Silva, who was stationed near the stage at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Oct. 1 and helped usher crowd members to safety before being shot.

Among the reasons the U.S. needs to curb gun violence, the deaths of officers and security personnel are high on the list.

Think about what we’re now asking these individuals to do.

Years ago, being on a police department’s SWAT team was typically a special volunteer assignment that offered pay differentials to reflect the additional training and high risks that went along with the job. As we know after the Oct. 1 tragedy, though, rank-and-file officers are now instructed to form impromptu tactical teams when facing mass shootings and terrorist attacks, as opposed to establishing a perimeter and waiting for SWAT teams to move in.

Security officers also face highly dangerous situations on a regular basis, as was illustrated on Oct. 1 when Mandalay Bay security staff member Jesus Campos was shot outside of the shooter’s hotel suite. And as was also shown that night, security guards often are unarmed or, at best, carry non-lethal weapons such as pepper spray.

Although the number of police officers killed in the line of duty dipped last year, and it appears the same could apply to security officers, it’s clear that the glut of firearms in the nation has put them at extreme risk in carrying out their duties.

Meanwhile, it’s difficult for law enforcement departments to advocate for gun safety measures. Doing so raises the risk of upsetting some of their most ardent political supporters, who tend to be conservative/NRA types. It also can spark backlash from gun-rights zealots who see any move to increase gun safety as an attempt by the government — and its police forces — to take their weapons and subjugate them.

Witness what happened when former Dallas Police Chief David Brown, discussing the July 2016 attack in which five of the department’s officers were shot and killed, said Texas’ open-carry laws added to the difficulty of responding to chaotic situations. Right-wing critics said law-abiding citizens with guns weren’t the problem.

But Brown was right. Here’s what he said: “It is increasingly challenging when people have AR-15s (a type of rifle) slung over, and shootings occur in a crowd. And they begin running, and we don’t know if they are a shooter or not. We don’t know who the ‘good guy’ versus who the ‘bad guy’ is, if everybody starts shooting.”

The glut of guns, combined with lax regulations, puts all Americans in danger — especially police.

So law enforcement and security officers need our help in fighting for reasonable gun control measures. These would include a ban on bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, as well as expanded background checks for gun purchases.

Although such initiatives aren’t likely to go anywhere at the national level during the current presidential administration and with Republicans in control of Congress, they can and should be dealt with at the state level.

In a year when Nevadans will vote for a governor and legislators, those who truly support law enforcement by working to reduce the firepower they face are the ones who’ll deserve votes.