In my more than 30 years in law enforcement, I’ve worn a lot of hats: police chief, superintendent with the National Guard, patrol section commander, Special Emergency Response Team negotiator. It’s been an honor to keep Pennsylvanians safe for all these years.
Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Legislature is considering a dangerous bill that would make it much harder for me, my officers and officers across the state of Pennsylvania to do their jobs safely and reduce violent crime.
House Bill 659, which passed out of the Judiciary Committee despite bipartisan opposition, would allow anyone 18 or older to carry a concealed firearm. There would be no more enhanced background checks to allow sheriffs to prevent someone who might want to do harm from carrying a hidden weapon.
The reality of permitless carry is anything but what the Founding Fathers intended. Not having enhanced background checks to prevent dangerous individuals from hiding a firearm jeopardizes public safety, increases violent crime and puts law enforcement at greater risk.
Gun violence is a national crisis, one that I’ve witnessed firsthand too many times during my many years in law enforcement.
On average, someone is killed with a gun every six hours in our state. That’s more than 1,500 deaths every year. If HB 659 becomes law, violence is only going to get worse — not better.
Academic research has found that violent crime rates are 13% to 15% higher in states with weak concealed carry permitting laws. After Arizona enacted permitless carry in 2010, it saw a 44% increase in aggravated assaults committed with a gun, the Utah Gun Violence Prevention Center stated.
Nor will allowing more people to carry a concealed firearm make people safer. Self-defensive gun use is extremely rare. People defend themselves with guns in less than 1% of crimes, according to a study published in 2015, and civilians who carry guns are actually more likely to get hurt, not less, when a crime is being committed.
Under existing law, we’re able to run extensive background checks and thoroughly evaluate concealed carry applicants. If someone abuses drugs or alcohol, or has a history of domestic violence, we may have that information and can protect them and others by denying their application. The removal of this process may be a win for the gun lobby, but it is a loss for the safety of Pennsylvanians and my officers.
By passing this bill, the state Legislature would be asking me to send the men and women of the Lancaster City Bureau of Police into situations where these individuals may be carrying loaded guns in public.
Part of my job as interim chief of police is to increase trust between law enforcement and the people of Lancaster. Permitless carry makes this part of my job — and the jobs of all of my officers — harder, not easier.
HB 659 also would lower the age for concealed carry from 21 to 18, allowing young adults who can’t legally buy a beer to carry a concealed weapon in public. This makes very little sense when you consider all of the research proving that the human brain is in a critical developmental phase during these years.
This age group is also disproportionately likely to commit violence: Those who are between 18 and 20 make up just 4% of the U.S. population, but comprise 17% of known homicide offenders.
I am not alone in being concerned about the dangers posed by the permitless concealed carry bill. The Pennsylvania Police Chiefs Association and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association are on record opposing this.
Take it from me: HB 659 would be harmful to public safety and my officers. If you stand with law enforcement or want safer communities, the only answer is to reject this dangerous, misguided bill.
John T. Bey is interim chief of the Lancaster City Bureau of Police. He was a chief master sergeant in the Air National Guard and a 25-year veteran of the Pennsylvania State Police, rising to the rank of captain. He also has served as the police chief in Middletown Borough.