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Jersey City Mayor Plays Politics with Law Enforcement Firearms

Friday, December 13, 2013

This week, Jersey City, N.J., Mayor Steven Fulop announced a plan that would needlessly inject politics into municipal public safety procurements by adding to the criteria used to evaluate bids a questionnaire asking vendors bidding on city firearm contracts about their positions on various forms of gun control.  A flattering news report describes the approach as "novel" and credits Mayors Against Illegal Guns member Fulop and the gun control group Moms Demand Action with developing the policy. In reality, Jersey City's questionnaire is just a retread of previous attempts to influence firearms manufacturers into supporting gun control with government purchasing power and will only serve to disadvantage the city's law enforcement officers.

While the entire policy is flawed, the specific questions asked manufacturers are irrelevant to their ability to deliver on the bid. First on the list of six is, "What do you do to combat illegal gun trafficking and illegal gun crime?" Presumably, a manufacturer operating its business in compliance with lengthy and stringent federal and state regulations aimed at addressing these issues isn't enough for Fulop or his allies.

In a display of ignorance of federal gun law, another question asks, "Are you requiring your dealers to conduct background checks?" Federal law has required all gun dealers to conduct background checks on retail sales for over 20 years.

Question four inquires, "Do you manufacture and sell assault weapons for civilian use?" This one will likely flummox bidders, as the term "assault weapon" has been widely distorted by gun control proponents and has no coherent or consistent definition (indeed, the only important thing to gun control advocates is that the definition continually expand, as it did this year in legislation in Connecticut, Maryland, and New York).

In question six the city fully reveals the ideological and impractical character of the questionnaire when it targets fictional portrayals of guns, asking, "Will you commit to prohibiting your brand name from being used in violent video games?"

In a December 11th opinion piece for the Huffington Post titled, "A New Approach to Gun Reform – Let's Get Started," Fulop refers to the city's approach as "what we believe to be a first-of-its-kind policy statement." But efforts by gun controllers to influence firearms policy through government purchasing date back at least to the last days of the Clinton administration.

In 2000, the Clinton administration, along with a coalition of local governments, attempted to force gun manufacturers into signing onto an agreement supporting a variety of gun control proposals. They did this in part by promising to steer federal and local contracts towards companies that capitulated to their demands. The agreement supported an array of gun controls, which included handgun rationing, mandatory training requirements and efforts to limit the availability of popular semi-automatic rifles.

One vocal proponent of the Clinton policy was then-Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary, and current New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo vowed to help steer local police contracts all over the country to manufacturers that caved-in to the administration. According to a representative from one manufacturer, Cuomo threatened that they would lose government business if they didn't sign on to the Clinton arrangement, warning, "I have a lot of push with these Democratic mayors."

But for all the Clinton administration bluster, the result was that the one manufacturer that signed on to the deal was ostracized in the gun community, and much of their promised boon in government contracts failed to materialize.

One of the reasons for this type of policy's failure is that law enforcement officials typically are not willing to play petty politics when it comes to their vital equipment. Using criteria other than the best possible performance for the money when determining the suitability of a police firearm puts the safety of law enforcement personnel at risk by creating the possibility that officers will be forced to use lesser-quality guns, but those produced by companies that purport to embrace arbitrary political litmus tests.

Illustrating this point, during the Clinton administration's attempts to influence contracts, Fraternal Order of Police National President Gilbert G. Gallegos stated, "'Adherence to a particular political philosophy' shouldn't play a part in gun purchases." Around the same time, Captain Garry Leonard of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department told the L.A. Times, "Politics aren't going to enter into how we choose our firearms… When you think of what we do for a living, we just can't take chances." Even legislation mandating "smart guns" in California and New Jersey has been careful to exempt law enforcement officers from being subjected to this unproven technology.

No less a gun control zealot than Michael Bloomberg has shown an unwillingness to sacrifice the safety of NYPD officers to gun control politics by exploiting police department acquisitions. When asked about a proposal that would have New York City boycott a certain gun manufacturer due to its civilian sales, the New York City Mayor responded, "The trouble is, if we boycott one, you probably have to boycott all of them and then you go back to the days when the crooks had better guns than the cops. We don't want our cops out-armed, out-gunned."

With even gun control's top patron admitting the folly of leveraging government contracts in pursuit of unrelated firearm restrictions on civilians, Fulop would do well to relegate this worn-out and potentially dangerous tactic back to the waste bin of history. It should be common sense that law enforcement officers need access to the best tools for their job, regardless of the manufacturer's opinion on video games or other irrelevant issues.

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