Wrong reversal on guns

Destroy them: Howard County missing an opportunity to lead against gun violence.

April 20, 2000

HE WAS right the first time.

Howard County Executive James N. Robey's decision to sell police officers their old handguns reverses an enlightened -- and opposite -- earlier decision.

He should return to the position he argued so well before: "We can not risk the chance of having one of our own service weapons turn up in a scenario where it can be used against us, other law enforcement professionals or innocent victims," he said.

He now plans to take precisely that risk. Howard County police officers are getting new, improved firepower soon, thus making their old side arms available for trade-in, sale or destruction. Some officers apparently can't bear to part with their guns -- and Mr.Robey now wants to indulge them.

What a pity.

Does another version of six-gun nostalgia really outweigh the value of making a statement, however symbolic, about the need to reduce the number of guns on the streets and in our homes?

His current position buys into the American love affair with guns, making that gesture more important than getting guns out of circulation -- a missed opportunity for him and for his department to lead in an important area. For the record, the department's 355 SIG Sauer 9 mm handguns are being replaced with a .40-caliber SIG Sauer model. Fine -- if that is what law enforcement needs to combat increasingly well-armed criminals. But reducing the number of guns available to criminals was another way of improving a police officer's odds of survival.

Furthermore, how can Mr. Robey be sure his "no-re-sale" condition is honored? The county executive held out the option of selling the guns to the police even as he announced his decision to destroy them -- but that observation leaves him on the hook. He has opened himself to criticism that his earlier announcement was designed for political advantage.

He deserved the praise -- then. And if he can change his mind once, he can do it twice. He should.

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