Boise Police Chief speaks out about guns on campus

Posted at 5:05 AM, Feb 21, 2014
and last updated 2015-10-09 07:51:07-04

Press Release from Boise Police Department:

Remarks presented by Chief Michael Masterson at a forum held at St Michael’s Episcopal Cathedral on February 19, 2014:

Right from the start we --myself and my colleagues of the Idaho Chiefs of Police Association -- respect the right for people to possess guns. 

We support the 2nd Amendment. It’s tough to have a conversation on a complex issue limited to three minutes of testimony before the state legislature even when you are allowed to speak, so thank you for the opportunity to talk about this issue tonight.

For the record, I registered electronically the day before to testify and received confirmation back that I was successful. I neither expect nor want special privilege. 

Please don’t read more into my comments when I speak cautiously of the intended and unintended consequences of passing S1254 as somehow implying I’m talking about every law abiding citizen and their right to responsibly carry. Guns are not our problem, but they’re not the solution either. 

I know how passionate folks tend to get about their guns, to the point that a civil dialogue about what makes sense is often lost.  People attribute motive to your beliefs.  Let me share with you a few facts. 

U.S. colleges and universities are safe environments for students.  In the universe of gun violence, campus mass shootings are rare: 93 percent of violence against college students age 18–24 occurs off campus, a U.S. Department of Justice study found. This is due in no small part to the prohibition of firearms on campus. 

The Clery Act requires colleges and universities across the United States that receive federal aid to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. In reviewing the data for all Idaho schools for the time period (from 2001 – 2012) it is important to point out that the following reportable crimes took place:

  • Murder (1)
  • Negligent Manslaughter (0)
  • Sex Offenses – Forcible (119)
  • Sex Offenses – Non- Forcible (7)
  • Robbery (9)
  • Aggravated Assault (68)
  • Burglary (823)
  • Motor Vehicle Theft (99)
  • Arson (48)

Listen to  the unanimous voices of Idaho’s College and University leaders, local police chiefs with responsibility for policing these places, and the Idaho Chiefs of Police Association who want to keep campuses gun-free for good reason.   

Right now the proposed bill is a solution in search of a non-existent problem.  

I’m here tonight to share with you a list of concerns over this proposed legislation. I want you to be challenge by my comments; give them a lot of reflection in making up your own minds as to whether you think allowing enhanced ccw permit holders to carry on our state’s public college campuses is the right move.  The police ultimately will carry out the wishes of the people we serve. 

The college-age years are among the most impulsive periods in a person’s life. These are the peak years for alcohol and drug abuse, suicide attempts, and the emergence of mental health problems.    

I don’t offer this as an over generalization of our student population but the concerns are well founded.  These are more than statistics to officers  who handle these crisis with increasing frequency in our communities – particularly involving mental health issues – including those who attend  our higher learning environments. 

First, do you  think it’s good public policy to create a law that allows persons 21 and over, with an enhanced CCW, to carry in a classroom or at a tailgate after consuming alcohol but not quite enough alcohol to the point of legal intoxication?    

It’s simply a bad combination and often deadly.  Idaho code 18-3302B states, “It is unlawful for any person to carry a concealed weapon on or about their person when intoxicated or under the influence of an intoxicated drink or drug”.  

There’s a lot of confusion among the enhanced CCW permit instructors I’ve spoken with.  How about creating specific criteria prohibiting a person from carrying concealed with a permit  when  using a narcotic prescription drug - like the same warning when it comes to operating machinery, and cars? believes you should never consume alcohol when carrying your firearm. Ambiguous wording is a problem. Our present law is a problem. 

We need standard lesson plans for both CCW and Enhanced CCW permits like our neighboring states of Utah and Oregon have in place.  Utah takes it a step further in requiring their instructors to attend a training program in order to teach others. 

The bottom line here is that there are no firearm qualification lesson plans for enhanced CCW carry permits. Instructors who are also police officers with firearms training backgrounds  regularly require their students to fire 200 rounds from distances of 15 yards and in. 

The bare minimum is 98 rounds and you could be as close as 3 yards. That firearms standard of proficiency should not give comfort to you when a gun is being carried on a college campus.

Sheriffs are often left to deciding what criteiria they will consider for a ccw permit and for instructor qualifications.  That’s a problem especially when they come to environments like college campuses. That’s a problem.

Yes, police leaders concede the immediate availability of a gun in the arms of a trained competent user could help stop a mass shooting suspect.  A far greater probability as often seen through the media in headlines is the immediate availability of a gun used in a highly emotional, angry response in a personal dispute. And with that use comes the probability that innocents could be injured or killed. 

When a gun is in your hand, those emotionally charged decisions are quick, often  remorseful and  irrevocable. There are no “do overs."  That’s a big problem. 

The other concern is how retired or off-duty police officers will react in a classroom of 275 students identifying a good gun and bad gun in a crisis situation that involves split second decisions. Not a good situation at all. 

In a federal court house only the US Marshals carry a firearm.  It makes sense, with a number of plain clothes officers from federal, state, county and local law enforcement agencies all armed in the place and not knowing who the other is.

If  a gun was produced how in the world do you tell who’s the good gun?   

Idaho law remains silent on a requirement for CCW permit holders to identify themselves in a contact/encounter with a law enforcement officer.  There is no duty to disclose by Idaho law.   That’s a problem.  

Obviously we like portions of the proposed bill that allow current and qualified retired law enforcement officers to carry even with the inherent risks mentioned previously.  But that practice already exists at Boise State University.  

Self-defense in the home, on the greenbelt or in the foothills against a single assailant poses much less danger to injuring others than inserting yourself in a gunfight with an active shooter in a crowded venue or a classroom. 

We should all be aware that virtually anyone over 21 In Idaho can receive a CCW permit. And the qualifications are minimal at best.  You don’t even have to handle a gun to get the CCW permit. Just attend a two hour class and listen.

There’s a legitimate concern over what constitutes a qualified instructor and how that information can be verified by sheriffs who issue CCW permits.   My officers tell me current gang members have CCW permits while they are in the company of other gang members who are prohibited from possessing firearms. That’s a problem.

What about  people who are otherwise good law abiding citizens but who struggle with mental illnesses?

As officers, we respond to calls every day involving people in crisis because they -- for one reason or another -- have not taken their meds yet our options are limited because they don’t meet the threshold of a forced mental commitment and court adjudication -- yet they have access to weapons and carry a Concealed Weapons permit. That’s a problem. 

We have a high percent of soldiers diagnosed with PTSD returning from combat who have CCW permits.  The Veterans Administration states that 30% of the 850,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war vets treated at the VA Hospitals have been diagnosed with PTSD.  Some cases are severe and require time for that adjustment.  

People with mental illness are not bad people. But if  the refrain we hear from the NRA is true – that guns don’t kill people, people do, let’s start with creating laws that deal with people.  

Let me share a few thoughts of what we do need.  We have problems. 

We don’t create good laws by building them on laws which are not working as designed.

How can we work together to identify those circumstances which make vulnerable people with access to weapons work through the legal system, affording due process with a hearing and  a judge’s order to  “dispossess”, temporarily, their access to firearms?

This is the discussion we should be having here in Idaho where people value rights to own guns but also value the safety of families and protecting our young people.

How can we prevent guns from getting into the hands of people who will harm others?   

We have a background check process that does work for retail sales and with dealers at gun shows who do it right in Idaho. But how do we keep guns from prohibited possessors through private sales, including those advertised through newspapers and the Internet?

We need to close those loop holes. 

Senate Bill 1254 is not a well-thought out bill.  It has problems.  I am expressing legitimate concerns about the passage of SB 1254. 

I’m a citizen and police chief who is exercising my right to speak out after being denied the right to speak before my elected leaders.  

A police chief is occasionally called upon to speak out on issues relating to public safety.  I’ve always operated with the view I report to the mayor, but I work for the people.  I briefed my bosses on my intentions to speak out, but I intentionally shielded them from soliciting their opinions or support so this public safety issue doesn’t become any more politically divisive.  

This is not a Democrat/Republican issue.  

I represent Idaho Chiefs of Police and particularly my colleagues policing college and university venues.  

This is a public safety issue. 

There is a disconnect in this country when a small, vocal, well-organized minority with substantial political influence can bring about laws that Idaho Police Chiefs, including myself, believe will do more harm to the public than good.  I’ve learned this week of the courage it takes to stand up and express your opinion. 

Let me describe a stark contrast to the way another gun bill was handled earlier this year.  Last year Rep. Mark Patterson introduced legislation that would have made it a crime for an Idaho law enforcement officer to seize weapons in a very poorly worded bill fraught with all sorts of legal vagueness. 

Our chiefs and sheriffs were united in their opposition to HB219 last year. You’ve read accounts in our local newspapers of the candid conversations several sheriffs were alleged to have had with their representatives.  I believe the sheriffs did Idaho law enforcement professionals, our  police officers and deputies, a great service in shutting down that bill, which the Idaho Chiefs of Police opposed, as did I. 

Late this fall, I was asked by Senator Bart Davis to review what was referred to as the SON of  219 which Senator Davis assured me was going to happen as the votes were there. Just like SB 1254. 

I consider Senator Davis an honorable man and an elder statesman who, although he was being directed from above, still solicited the input from the Chiefs and Sheriffs Associations on how to best make it work.

Language was cleared up on the definition of seizure, a sentence was added to protect our drug and gang task forces, and a civil penalty was substituted for a first time offense instead of language that lawmakers included that would have otherwise made your Idaho police officers criminals.  

Senate Bill 1332 is the result of hysteria that an executive order would come from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue somehow prompting Idaho’s law enforcement community to seize your weapons.

That will never happen.

And it won’t be because of this law which is the what the legislature wants you to believe. Idaho law enforcement, chiefs and sheriffs won’t allow it to happen. It received a 34-0-1 approval vote in the House.  It’s not a problem. 

When I talk about keeping guns out of the hands of people who have the greatest potential to harm themselves or others, it’s these citizens; generally good, usually law abiding folk, who have temporary issues.

Think about the many outpatient commitment programs we now have that are substitutes for hospitalization? How about our many vets returning from combat suffering from PTSD?  The VA says 30% of the 835,000 soldiers they have treated who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD.   

And yes, these are challenges; something good people are debating around the country. Idaho could lead the way with meaningful discussion and policy.

 I’ll close with a simple comment and question I read this week in the Idaho Statesman; a simple question with a not-to-simple answer, because it means taking action. 

A reader stated her observation that there are very few who support this proposed law—SB 1254 - but then asked this question - what will it take for the bill to be killed? 

Stop letting special interests drive the legislation agenda. 

Call the governor’s office, your state senator, and your house representative.  Let your voice be heard.  Thousands of phone calls would be a good start to show them the silent majority wants a voice and are opposed to passing SB1254.