Two Oklahoma police chiefs who attended a national conference on gun violence prevention say they have been flooded with calls from people who mistakenly believe they support a gun ban.
Norman Police Chief Keith Humphrey and Spencer Police Chief Virgil Green say the “hot button” topic of gun control has led many to jump to the wrong conclusions.
“The phones have been ringing pretty steady since yesterday,” Green said Friday.
Both chiefs support stricter background checks before people can purchase weapons, but neither one supports a ban on weapons.
The two were among about 30 police chiefs from across the United States at the national conference in Washington. Humphrey and Green were invited to attend in their capacity as members of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
As part of the conference, the police chiefs were told to attend Senate hearings, one of which was chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the author of legislation that would ban assault weapons. She has been a lightning rod for criticism from gun rights advocates.
During the hearing on Wednesday, Feinstein asked all the police chiefs to stand and be recognized. She recognized some by name, including Humphrey and Green.
“I think this led to an inference we were there to support her position,” Humphrey said.
“I don't support banning guns. I think law-abiding citizens have a right to own weapons. I don't want to take anyone's Second Amendment rights away.”
Green said he was caught off guard when Feinstein called out their names.
“It was misinterpreted by many that we were there in support of her legislation. I'm not, and neither is Chief Humphrey,” Green said.
Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma political science professor, said the two police chiefs were caught in the political crossfire surrounding the gun-control issue.
“Politicians use everyone else as props,” Gaddie said.
“By calling them by name it creates the perception of support when, really, they just happen to be in the room.”
The decorum of a Senate hearing doesn't allow them to protest on the spot, Gaddie said, “so they find themselves in the position of having to defend themselves after the fact.”
Humphrey said most people who have called his office “were just concerned. They were disappointed at what they perceived my position was, but once I explained it, they were fine.”
No one was rude, and, in fact, he said, “some even apologized because they realized I was caught in the crossfire.”
While in Washington, the two police chiefs said they met with Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, to discuss legislation that would tighten laws governing background checks.
“None of us discussed any bans on weapons,” Green said.
Humphrey said the conference was a collaboration of nine nationally recognized professional law enforcement organizations that comprise the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence.
“Before I accepted an invitation to attend,” Humphrey said, “I made it perfectly clear that my focus would be on enhancement of background checks for criminals and people that have been declared mentally ill. I don't want guns to fall into the hands of the wrong people. That's my concern. Law-abiding citizens are not the problem.”
Both police chiefs said loopholes in the current gun-registration laws allow people to buy weapons at gun shows without background checks. They would like to see that change.
“I'd like the requirements to be equal for anyone purchasing a gun,” Green said.