Transcript: Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson’s testimony in support of an assault weapons ban before the Senate Judiciary Committee

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of testimony by Jim Johnson, Chief of the Baltimore County Police Department and Chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence on Jan. 30, 2013:

I’m here on behalf of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, an alliance of the nation’s law enforcement leadership organizations concerned about the unacceptable level of gun violence in the United States.

We mourn the loss of gun violence victims, including the 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, who lives were cut short by an individual armed with firepower originally designed for combat.

More than 30 homicides occur in America each day…2,000 children…folks 18 and under die from firearm-related violence deaths.

And in 2011 for the first time in 14 years, firearm is the leading cause of death for police officers killed in the line of duty.

In a one-week period in 2011, Police Executive Research Forum found that gun crimes in 6 cities – it cost more than $38 million. And in the year 2010 the cost to the entire country was more than $57 billion.

We urgently need Congress to address the rising epidemic of gun violence in this nation.

Law enforcement leaders support the President’s comprehensive approach, which includes advancing safety in educational institutions and addressing mental health issues.

But on behalf of my colleagues across the nation, I am here to tell you that we are long overdue in strengthening our nation’s gun laws. Doing so must be a priority for Congress.

The organizations and the National Law Enforcement Partnership to prevent gun violence urgently call on you to require background checks on all firearms purchase, ensure that prohibited purchasers’ record in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCICS) are complete, and limit high-capacity ammunition feeding devices to 10 rounds.

Seven of our 9 groups, including the largest among us, also supports Sen. Feinstein’s assault weapons ban legislation.

Federal law prohibits dangerous individuals such as convicted felons and those with mental health disqualifi[cations] from possessing firearms. While background checks are required for purchases through licensed gun dealers, no check is required for private sales such as those through online or print ads or gun shows. It’s a major problem.

From November 2011 to November 2012, an estimated 6.6 million gun transactions occurred without a background check. Up to 40% of firearms transactions occur through private individuals rather than licensed gun dealers. Allowing 40% of those acquiring guns to bypass checks is like allowing 40% of passengers to board a plane without going through security. Would we do this?

Last October in Brookfield, Wisconsin, 7 women were shot by a prohibited purchaser who was under a domestic violence restraining order. The shooter answered an online ad [and] was able to buy a gun without a check very quickly. Had the sale been…checked, this tragedy could have been prevented.

Background checks work. They stop nearly 2 million prohibited purchasers between 1994 and 2009. We already have a national background check system in place. Therefore, extending the background check to all firearm purchases can easily be implemented and it should be without delay.

States can’t do it alone. Inter-state firearms trafficking is a rapid problem and it must be addressed federally. According to ATF, in 2009, 30% of guns recovered at crime scenes crossed state lines. Maryland recovered nearly 2,000 last year from outside of the state.

Submissions to NCICS must be approved, especially mental health and drug abuse records. A 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech is a great example of a prohibited purchaser slipping through the cracks due to an incomplete NCICS background check.

The ban in assault weapons and high-capacity ammunitions must be reinstated. Like assault weapons, high capacity magazines are not used for hunting and they do not belong in our homes, and the wreck havoc on our community. Banning these magazines will limit the number of rounds a shooter can discharge before he has to reload. Reloading can provide a window to escape, to seek cover, concealment, or attack the adversary, to take down the shooter as we’ve heard in Tucson.

In 1998, 4 years after the assault weapons high-capacity magazine ban was enacted the percentage of firearms and large-capacity magazines recovered by Virginia police decreased and continued to drop until it hit a low of 9% of the weapons recovered. In 2004, the year the ban expired, it hit a high of 20% in 2010.

I’ve been in law enforcement for 35 years. I’ve seen an explosion of firepower since the assault weapons ban expired. It is common to find many shell casings at crime scenes when you go out and you investigate these days. Victims are being riddled with multiple gun shots.

The common-sense measures we call for will not infringe Second Amendment rights but will keep guns out of the dangerous hands of people who are out there to commit danger in our society and excessive firepower out of our communities.

Generations of Americans, including our youngest ones are depending on you to ensure that they will grow up and fill their roles in the great human experience. None of us can fail them and I urge you to follow the will of the American public on this issue and stand with law enforcement on these common-sense public safety measures.

Thank you.

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2 Comments on “Transcript: Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson’s testimony in support of an assault weapons ban before the Senate Judiciary Committee

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