Republican sheriff Bob Gualtieri, speaking for himself and on behalf of the Florida Sheriffs Association, has been a vocal opponent of a bill that would allow for open carry, and his rhetoric has recently made headlines.
It was originally reported that the Pinellas County (Tampa) sheriff baldly stated that if police see even law abiding citizens open carrying, they could expect to be “thrown down on the ground with a gun pointed at them — or worse.”
After a firestorm of backlash from gun rights supporters, Gualtieri quickly responded that he had been misquoted and taken out of context. In reality, he said,
“It’s a question of whether, at 3 o’clock in the morning at the 7-11 store, when there’s a silent hold-up alarm and the deputy pulls into the parking lot, and the citizen is walking out of the store with a .45 stuck in their holster, let’s say, and a cup of coffee in their hand – it’s not going to be a good situation for that citizen,” Gualtieri said. “At a minimum, they’re going to be thrown down on the ground with a gun pointed at them – or worse.”
To be fair, there is a bit of a difference in police officers randomly forcing open carriers to the ground at gunpoint, and an officer responding to an alarm. And reading Gualtieri’s other examples, it is clear he is trying to show that open carry involves dangers and risks not associated with concealed carry—risks that affect all citizens, and that are especially acute for police officers responding to situations in which decisions have to be made in potentially tense situation.
But even giving these qualifications, the sheriff’s comments are still troubling. They reveal the problem that is at the heart of the police state. Police are no longer seen (and no longer see themselves) as citizens, but as a privileged class. And they are seen and see themselves this way because this is what they have been allowed to become.
So in even this conservative Sheriff’s mind, if there is any question in any situation, the armed citizen must automatically be subjected to the lethal mercy of the armed policeman. Even if the citizen is in an obvious non-threatening posture—walking and holding a cup of coffee—they can expect to get thrown to the ground by a government agent at gunpoint in an obviously lethal situation. This is because when police arrive on the scene, using Gualtieri’s words, “the law enforcement officer is going to have to secure the scene.”
Thus the status quo expectation has become that a scene can only be “secured” by a government agent, and once that officer arrives, he has special authorization to take special measures to “secure the scene.” His powers and immunities are above and beyond those available to average citizens. This set of expectations, coupled with a broad set of immunities for mistakes, negligence or even malice, leads to the type of mentality that could make such statements as Gualtieri has. It is an elitist, statist, tyrannical, police state mentality that envisions armed agents of the government attacking citizens with immunity and under the color of law.
This situation has developed because we have abandoned the biblical and common law view that police work is a right inherent first in the people. This right can be delegated to certain deputized citizens for certain purposes, but it is specifically delegated without surrender. This means that police are merely exercising rights and powers that citizens already have, just in an official capacity. It also means that the even though these rights may be delegated to certain officials, they are not surrendered by the people once they do so.
We have abandoned this understanding with police in the same way we have abandoned the biblical view of militia. Christians have almost universally embraced standing armies as the status quo, even as a sacred status quo. To question our standing armies even from the perspective of biblical exegesis is to invite a barrage of insults. We have evolved to the same extent in regard to police: we have moved from a view of deputized citizens to a view of police as a professional, standing army invested with tremendous power and immunity for wrongdoing. And even to question this, even from a biblical perspective, is to activate a powerful machinery of public relations and a public mentality already pervaded by it.
And since the police have grown to embrace this position, they can logically oppose further exercise of gun rights by the citizens. This is because in certain situations it will make the decisions that police must make more difficult. The policeman’s response to such situations under the current status quo will be to impose further force, and to do so quickly and automatically. Even if the victim of such force is perfectly innocent and nonthreatening, the move will be justified on the grounds that it simplified the officer’s work and left him in the most secure position possible. When this mentality is confronted with our biblical and constitutional rights, it opposes them and resorts to tactics of fear (you will get thrown to the ground at gunpoint, or worse!) in order to frighten the public into submission. This mentality becomes the default for government agents like Gualtieri and the Florida Sheriff’s Association.
Now, it is good to know that some are able to think in more principled terms and acknowledge both the Constitutionality and practicality of an armed populace. The Florida Police Chiefs Association does not share the tyrannical views of their colleagues in the FSA. They have instead voted to support the open carry bill.
Certainly there are risks involved with open carry as opposed to concealed carry. I personally share these concerns. If you open carry, you announce to all would-be criminals that you’re their first target should they decide to commit the crime. Sheriff Gualtieri greatly compounds this problem by asserting that not just criminals, but police officers also, will make open carriers such a target.
What we need is not more restrictions on gun rights, and certainly not fearmongering by our police. We need instead to return to a more biblical and traditional view of police. It is a right inherent in the people first and foremost, and those acting in a delegated official capacity should have no different rights or responsibilities than citizens. This should be our goal. Until we can even begin to get there, we can at least try to replace the elected officials who want to place themselves above our rights as the status quo. And these views should be ringing from the pulpits, especially in their relevant locations.