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Jersey City Moves Forward in Politicizing Law Enforcement Procurements

Friday, May 16, 2014

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Jersey City, N.J., has moved forward with a previously announced plan to inject anti-gun politics into their law enforcement procurement process. The city has required gun manufacturers and distributors, bidding to supply the city's police force with firearms and ammunition, to fill out a survey quizzing the firms on their participation in a raft of gun control measures. Mayor Steven Fulop told the WSJ, that the gun control initiative, "shows municipalities and police departments have the ability to shape the dialogue." Thus far two bidders for the city's $500,000 in contracts have complied with the questionnaire, Atlantic Tactical and Lawmen Supply Company.

In a December opinion piece for the Huffington Post, Fulop revealed the initial questionnaire:

- What do you do to combat illegal gun trafficking and illegal gun crime?
- Do you manufacturer and sell assault weapons for civilian use?
- Do you agree not to sell certain models of firearms for civilian use?
- Are you requiring your dealers to conduct background checks?
- Do you fund research related to gun violence and smart gun technology?
- Will you commit to prohibiting your brand name from being used in violent video games?

According to the WSJ, the interrogation has since been altered by adding a question asking how companies manage used firearms that government agencies sell back to them and omitting the questions about gun violence research and violent video games. The elimination of two questions is an improvement, but what remains is still irrelevant to equipping police officers with the equipment they need and redundant when federal gun industry regulations are considered.

For instance, a sufficient answer to the question, "What do you do to combat illegal gun trafficking and illegal gun use?" could simply state that the company complies with all federal laws and regulations pertaining to the industry. The same applies to the question, "Are you requiring your dealers to conduct background checks?" As a matter of law, firearm manufacturers and distributers sell their wares to the public through federally licensed firearms dealers, who are already required to conduct background checks. In an industry this highly regulated and scrutinized, a firearm manufacturer or distributor's continued operation should be ample evidence of its compliance with federal law, and therefore Jersey City's questions solicit no useful information.

Another of the remaining questions should pose a significant challenge to any potential arms suppliers: "Do you manufacturer and sell assault weapons for civilian use?" "Assault weapon" is a term often used by gun control supporters to mischaracterize semi-automatic firearms, and in this context has no precise meaning. Even amongst states that have laws specifically pertaining to "assault weapons," the definitions vary widely. Of course, if the bidder were to interpret the question using the historically and technically accurate definition of "assault weapon," meaning a select-fire rifle or carbine chambered for an intermediate cartridge, the answer could only be "no," as the sale of new automatic firearms to civilians was halted with the Hughes Amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986.

More important than the questionnaire's poor phrasing are its implications for Jersey City's law enforcement officers, who have become a pawn for Fulop's gun control ambitions.  Evaluating a firm's willingness to curb lawful civilian gun ownership in no way demonstrates its ability to supply – reliably, economically, and in a timely fashion – the best, most modern and effective tools for law enforcement personnel. When faced with a life-threatening situation, will an officer take heart that his or her armaments have been supplied by a company that restricts civilian gun access, or will the officer have confidence that the first and only consideration in the selection of equipment is to provide the most effective tool for the task at hand?

This threat is real, and you don't have to take our word for it. Michael Bloomberg, a man who has rarely met a gun control proposal he didn't like and wasn't willing to throw money at, nevertheless rejected the notion of playing politics with police equipment. When asked in 2011 as Mayor of New York City about boycotting a major gun manufacturer, Bloomberg 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…  There's a lot of things that went into lowering the crime, but arming the cops was part of it."

Unfortunately, the WSJ article reports that several other cities, such as Durham, N.C., Cleveland, Ohio, and New Haven, Conn., are contemplating their own similar experiments with officer safety. History shows, however, that police departments are unlikely to simply roll over and accept political tinkering with their firearms. During the Clinton administration, attempts by the federal government to influence municipal firearm purchases based on political concerns were largely rebuffed by the law enforcement community. With history as our guide, police and gun owners should once again stand up to ensure that the anti-gun prejudices of politicians do not affect law enforcement's access to the most effective firearms for defending themselves and keeping the peace.

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