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San Diego Police Chief Talks Guns

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January 15, 2013 1:23 p.m.


William Lansdowne, San Diego Police Chief

Mike Benoit, San Diego Libertarian Party, Member of Gun Owners of America

Related Story: San Diego Police Chief Supports Greater Gun Regulation


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, today, the city of Chula Vista discusses a resolution aimed at routing gun violence. Yesterday, Del Mar city officials voted to ask the Fairgrounds board to end its contract with the gun show and to take the Del Mar name off the event. These are some of the local responses to what is now a national debate over gun control. President Obama is expected to release his proposed legislation on gun regulations sometime this week. Today we're speaking with two San Diegans who are very involved in the issue of guns and gun control. First one of the so-called good guys with guns, San Diego police chief Williams Lansdowne. I spoke with him earlier today. Chief, the nation is now engaged in a debate over gun control. The president has named stop stopping rampant gun violence as one of his top priorities. Since police officers are on the front lines when gun violence considers, what's your overall take on this subject?

LANSDOWNE: I am not more supportive of the president for taking the position he has. I think it's courageous with the politics involved in this process. But I think it's going to eventually make the country safer and certainly safer for my recovers that have to respond to these calls.

CAVANAUGH: Now, some question whether gun control laws actually decrease crime. Do they actually cut down? Is there any correlation between the number of homicides and the number of the kind of gun control laws?

LANSDOWNE: I know they've monitored this very closely. Those states that have the fewest number of guns certainly have the lowest number of homicides. But I don't think it's just the homicides you need to look at. You need to look at the suicides, the unintentional accidental shootings that take place. And for every homicide, there are three shootings that took place. And the difference between a homicide and a shooting, gang-involve or whatever it happens to be, is just the aim.

CAVANAUGH: What can you tell us about gun-related crimes in San Diego?

LANSDOWNE: We have an increase in the number of gang homicides this year. In fact, we've seen an increase across the board in all reported crimes that we report to the federal government. But gang homicide this is year are up about 130%.

CAVANAUGH: California as I understand has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. There's a ban on assault weapons, we have a ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines. If those were not in place, how dangerous would it be for your officers, do you think?

LANSDOWNE: Well, I think it certainly would increase the number of those weapons available to people to get their hands on it. And many of those weapons come out of burglaries. We need to strengthen the laws and the oversight as we look at managing who is allowed to have weapons and how they get them. But we're seeing an increase of assault-type weapons being used against law enforcement.

CAVANAUGH: What kind of firepower to your officers generally face?

LANSDOWNE: The officers are armed with either a shotgun, an AR-15, or a handgun of some sort.

CAVANAUGH: And what's coming back at them?

LANSDOWNE: Well, we have had cases, the most recent one where the officers were under fire was from an M-14, it's an assault weapon, a military grade weapon punches right through the vest. And it was an unusual case in that he came at the recovers and got six rounds off into the car, the police car, which penetrates the vehicle and would penetrate the bulletproof vests that they wear.

CAVANAUGH: There's an argument from gun advocates that say no matter what kind of laws you enact, bad guys who want guns are going to get them. And California has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, and yet your officers encounter people who have weapons they shouldn't have. So really what good is enacting gun control if indeed the bad guys can get the guns?

LANSDOWNE: Well, I think the real tragedy here as we look at the issue of gun control is doing nothing at all and believing that there's nothing that will affect the danger the officers are put in or civilians. And I would argue the advocates for no gun control, they don't talk to the parents that have to put their children inside their bathtub at night so that random gun fire doesn't injure their children. They don't live in the neighborhoods where the problem is prolific. And I see it all the time. And our officers see it all the time. We need to do something about gun control, and we have to get these high-capacity assault weapons off the streets. It's going to take time. But if we work on it diligently, work together as a nation, we'll be able to do it.

CAVANAUGH: How difficult is it for states or even cities to try to legislate or enforce their own gun control laws if there's no corresponding national policy?

LANSDOWNE: It happened today. I saw New York now just implemented a new policy. Seven rounds instead of ten. They banned assault weapons. And they've made the step that I think is necessary to have mandatory reporting of mental health issues to a state database, so as we check for someone who's trying to purchase a weapon, we can restrict that ability to get a weapon like this.

CAVANAUGH: But can states and cities do this on their own?

LANSDOWNE: Oh, certainly they can.

CAVANAUGH: But if there is no national policy that corresponds, doesn't it make it more difficult for the individual states and cities to do it on their own? Because the guns can come in from somewhere else.

LANSDOWNE: It doesn't stop or prevent the states or cities from doing it on their own. But we can have restrictive gun laws in California but they can go across the state line and pick the weapons up and drive back. It puts us at risk. There needs to be a national policy, and I applaud the president for stepping forward.

CAVANAUGH: What would you like to see as part of a national policy?

LANSDOWNE: I would very much like to see a national policy on the importation of assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines. I would very much like to see a national database that captures information quickly in real-time so we can identify people with mental health issues, be notified by people with mental health issues, prevent them from getting their hands on these types of weapons, strengthen the laws as it relates to purchases, people who purchase guns in their name and give them to somebody else. It would be a tremendous benefit for the entire nation, and it would take time for it to take effect, but eventually it would lessen the number of homicides and suicides and accidental shootings in this country.

CAVANAUGH: What about people concerned about their 2nd amendment rights. Is there potential to go too far in restricting gun ownership?

LANSDOWNE: The Supreme Court has spoken on the issue. People have a right to own weapon, and all we're suggesting is, and asking for, is the ability to control the types of weapons. Obviously no one needs a 50-caliber machine gun for home defense in the process. It does not prevent them from hunting, from target practice, from owning handguns. We're just saying the high-capacity gun, assault type weapons put this country at risk and create danger for my police officers.

CAVANAUGH: Some law enforcement officials around the country are speaking out, joining together in support of tougher gun control. Will you join their voices? Are you making any plans to join in with other law enforcement officials across the nation?

LANSDOWNE: I've already done that. I long to what we call major city chiefs. It's the 62 largest cities in America from New York to Los Angeles to Dallas, San Francisco, San Diego. I happen to be the west coast regional representative of major city chief, and we as an organization have all joined together and made those very recommendations, and we'll continue to do that. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

LANSDOWNE: Thank you for asking me to be here. I enjoyed it very much.

CAVANAUGH: Joining me now is Mike Benoit with the San Diego libertarian party. Welcome to the program.

BENOIT: Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: The reaction that people have had in the nation against guns in light of the recent mass shootings that we have had at Sandy Hook and the Colorado theatre shooting, it must be understandable to gun advocates what. Is your counter argument?

BENOIT: Well, whenever something occurs in volume, like a mass shooting, people get up in arms and their emotions start to take over. And you'll have arguments coming from both sides: The 2nd amendment people are gearing up, and actually I think people that sell guns and manufacture guns, business gets better because they're worried about their rights being violated. And the other side is here's some violence is and this magical idea that they can stop all violence by removing certain types of guns and having restrictions on crazy people. Basically everybody is crazy at one moment or another in time in their life. And it doesn't stop the bad guys from getting guns. The argument is sometimes disingenuous on both side, and on the gun regulation side they want to argue taking away a certain amount of weapons because people don't need them, I would ask those people would you be against arming the Jewish people in Nazi Germany with a assault rifle? And the answer would probably be no. That kind of devastation to human life would never occurred if people had a way to fight back.

CAVANAUGH: People hearing that kind of argument might say we're not in Nazi Germany, we're in the democratic United States of America. And even though the Supreme Court has said the 2nd amendment allows gun ownership, don't we have any capacity to be able to regulate that gun ownership so that it doesn't fall into the hands of people who might misuse it just so that we avoid being this Nazi Germany thing that we're not?

LANSDOWNE: We're not because as long as America is armed, it won't be a Nazi Germany. And people say regulate this, regulate that hoping that they're going to get a better result. And the thing is that the 2nd amendment is the gun regulation, and if anybody uses any kind of tool in an offensive manner unprovoked, then they've committed a crime, and they should be prosecuted for that crime. But if I had my way, people that have served in the military, trained in weapons, should be allowed to bring their weapon home and put it underneath their bed, just in case America needs to call them into arms to fight an enemy, then they're ready to do that too. Just having the weapon doesn't make criminal actions or criminal activity. And we talk about the street violence and what not, the same people that want to legalize drugs seem to be the same people that want to remove our gun rights. And it seems like both sides ought to understand on legalization of drugs and the right to keep and bear arms, if we protect both those rights then people are not going around shooting one another for drug profits.

CAVANAUGH: We just heard from San Diego police chief William Lansdowne. He is one of the versus what the NRA president would characterize as a good guy with a gun. He lives in the world of reality. It's not a theoretical thing for him. It's a daily thing with his officers on the street, and he is an advocate for tighter gun regulation. How would you answer what he says with what his officers have to deal with on the street?

BENOIT: Well, he's not the first person in government that wants people to have less in the way of firearms. There are people on the other side of that coin in law enforcement, sheriff Richard Mack has been real active with the oath keeper, and they're law enforcement people who are working hard to protect all of our rights. In fact they encourage private ownership of guns. His people are in a dangerous occupation, and like I said earlier about the drugs, if you legalize drugs, you don't have people fighting over the turf that we, and they're always going to be in a dangerous occupation though. And they're not going to be safer if the citizens that won't harm anybody are prohibited from having firearms. He lives in the real world, but he has a theory. We all live in the world, and we all have our theory. But the libertarian point of view is always based on your right to protect your life, liberty and your property.

CAVANAUGH: Is it their point of view that guns should not be regulated at all?

BENOIT: Well, yeah, and that's when people go crazy. Yes, they should be regulated in the sense that you can't use it in a careless or offensive manner. If your child got a hold of your weapon and went out and shot somebody, then you should suffer the consequences for that because you're -- you need to be responsible. Whenever you fail to be responsible, then yes, that's the regulation comes in at that point.

CAVANAUGH: Should you be able to have any type of weapon you choose?

BENOIT: Well, not any weapon that in itself is, say, volatile and can cause damage. People say, well, libertarians would say people could have an atomic bomb. And atomic bombs can leak radiation and people, so no. It's just dangerous in its basic existence. The same thing with Nitroglycerin or things like that. Other than that --

CAVANAUGH: Surface to air missile?

BENOIT: Well, I don't know who could buy one if they had one. That's like one of those hypothetical too. Theoretically, yes, practically, no.

CAVANAUGH: Just to wrap things up, what will you be -- what kind of voice will the libertarian party be raising during this debate? Will there be any wiggle room in compromise if there are gun regulations proposed?

BENOIT: Well, that's what happens with our rights, typically one side, the left or the right will erode them by one regulation after another. And the libertarians would probably support the gun owners of America more than they would the national rifle association because the gun owners of America are pretty hard line on this stuff. When something occurs, our government says we're going to have a lot more security and regulation, we better do something about that. Like the 911 experience. So they set up a TSA agency that really violates all the people that would harm nobody and in the process don't make us any safer. The things that they are looking for with this new process wouldn't have stopped the 911 people.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, I have to end it there. Thank you very much for coming in.

BENOIT: Thank you.