I fully intended to write an article this month about an outstanding training program for Wardens and prospective Wardens offered by the Correctional Management Institute of Texas at Sam Houston State University. However, the horrific events of last week in Newtown, Connecticut, made my topic seem trivial at best. Instead I am going to raise the need for a meaningful dialogue and change in our nation’s approach to firearms.
The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School will be ingrained in my memory in a manner similar to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the tragic events of September 11, 2001. In each of these incidents, I can vividly recall exactly where and when I first learned of these unspeakable acts.
My feelings, like those of many others, went from shock, to horror, to anger, and ultimately to a profound sense of loss and sadness. The difference this time is that I was ultimately left with a feeling that I could not sit idly by and write off this latest tragedy as something over which I had no control. It brought out in me a sense that I needed to raise my voice and act – not wring my hands in despair.
As a retired law enforcement professional with over 35 years of experience, do I not have experience in the responsible use of firearms and knowledge of the terrible consequences of their misuse? Many of us in law enforcement were thoroughly trained in the use and then issued firearms in the performance of our duties.
However, there was a clear protocol that had to be successfully completed before we were ever issued a firearm. At a minimum, we underwent extensive criminal background checks, a psychological examination, extensive training in the safe use and storage of these weapons, and were provided specific guidelines regarding the appropriate use of deadly force. I don’t recall any of my colleagues protesting these requirements as a violation of their “constitutional rights” or lobbying to streamline the process.
It is my feeling that the protocols for firearms use in law enforcement should serve as a model for changes to our existing gun laws. I offer the following suggestions as legislators debate these issues:
Any individual who wishes to own a firearm should have to undergo a criminal history investigation prior to being able to own or possess a firearm. Certain criminal history factors would preclude an individual from gun ownership or possession;
Consent for a psychological history check and, if warranted, a psychological examination prior to gun ownership. This provision should probably be subject to review and re-certification periodically, perhaps every five years;
Firearms Safety and Use Training
Gun owners would have to successfully complete a comprehensive training course in the safe use and storage of firearms. This training would include a review of the laws governing the lawful use of firearms and use of deadly force;
Gun owners would be required to store their weapons in approved manners that help prevent their theft and/or use by an unauthorized person;
Ban on Automatic or Semiautomatic Weapons and Related Equipment
Proceed with a ban on the sale and use of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, high capacity magazines or other loaders, and armor piercing ammunition.
While these changes are extensive, they do not prevent individuals who want to lawfully own weapons for hunting, target sports, or self-protection. It just seems like a common sense step to make gun ownership more difficult than adopting a shelter dog. In many States, that presently is not the case.
For those who say these measures are cost prohibitive, my response is simply that any expense tied to these steps should be borne by the gun owner. Many hobbies/activities are expensive, and I cannot accept that the financial impact on individual gun owners is of greater importance than the positive societal impact of achieving a reduction in gun violence.
I am well prepared for a strong (probably an understatement) response to my position. For the record, I do not claim to be an expert in firearms or gun legislation, just a father and grandfather who worries about the level of gun violence in our nation.
This is not a Democratic or Republican issue, or a dividing line between liberals and conservatives. This is a pivotal point in our nation’s history – an opportunity to define what kind of society we will be moving forward as. As law enforcement professionals, we should be leading and adding our voice to this national dialogue. I, for one, will not stand quietly on the sidelines.
I intend to lend my voice to the rising call for sensible gun control legislation. If the events of the past week do not spur us to action what will? It is vital that we find the courage to confront this issue now. The twenty-six angels of Newtown and their heartbroken families deserve no less.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of CorrectionsOne or its staff
About the author
Charles E. Albino retired after 35 years of service to the New Jersey criminal justice system. He served as warden of the Southern State Correctional Facility in 2010. Charles began his career as a correctional officer and later became a parole officer and then senior parole officer. He was Senior Classification Officer in the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center before becoming Executive Assistant at the Bayside State Prison. He spent the remaining ten years of his career in prison leadership positions.