Thursday, June 21, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Police chief delivers dose of reality

It's not very often that a bumptious United States senator has his tuchus so very publicly handed to him, especially in the midst of a congressional hearing. But when it does happen, it's a thing of beauty.

We all know from watching these political geek shows on television that the entire purpose of a Capitol Hill hearing is for senators to grandstand, hector people and otherwise turn witness testimony into their own personal "I feel pretty, oh so pretty" moment of hubris.

But Milwaukee police Chief Edward Flynn was having none of South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham's attempt to use him as a NRA potted plant. Graham should have known better. Flynn has been busting punks all his professional life.

Flynn was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013. In prepared remarks, Flynn expressed support for the ban and cited the deadly toll these needless firearms had exacted on his community, noting since 2010 his officers had taken 159 assault weapons off the streets of Milwaukee.

"It is time for Congress to pick a side and I am hopeful that it can be on the side of law enforcement," Flynn said, ending his comments with: "We need to recognize that we can protect our Second Amendment rights without unnecessarily and unreasonably infringing on our free society's right to public safety."

And that was Flynn's fatal error. He had dared to appear before the United States Senate and commit common sense. No good would come from this. And it didn't.

Lying in wait was Graham. It is one of the cherished kabuki dances of Senate hearings for self-important senators to cut off witnesses, talk over them and relentlessly harangue as the poor victim struggles to get a word in edge-wise.

With the NRA's Wayne LaPierre's hand firmly up Graham's spineless back, the senator went after Flynn's support for universal background checks on every gun sale.

Graham whined (erroneously): "We do absolutely nothing to enforce the laws on the books," as he pestered Flynn about how many gun background check violation cases his department had pursued.

Finally, an angry Flynn had enough of Graham's pestering. "It doesn't matter, it's a paper thing," Flynn said. "I want to stop 76,000 people from getting guns illegally. That's what the background check does. If you think we're going to do paperwork prosecutions, you're wrong."

But Graham wouldn't let up asking Flynn about the number of background violations cases his department had filed.

"We don't make those cases. We have priorities. We make gun cases," the chief tried to explain to the senator from Smith & Wesson. "We make 2,000 gun cases a year, senator, that's our priority. We're not on a paper chase. We're trying to prevent the wrong people from buying guns. That's why we do background checks. And if you think I'm going to do a paper chase, then you think I'm going to misuse my resources. We don't chase paper. We chase armed criminals."

This was sort of the Washington Beltway version of Jimmy Cagney smashing a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face in Public Enemy.

Flynn had to realize if the NRA wholly owned subsidiary of senators like Graham weren't going to be moved to act on sensible gun control measures following the heart-wrenching testimony of Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son Jesse was one of 20 children murdered at the Newtown, Conn., school shooting in December, what chance did a professional law enforcement official have in making a well-reasoned case to rein in the nation's irrational gun culture?

Senators like Graham love to give lip service to their support of law enforcement, unless, of course, it conflicts with their allegiance to the NRA. Around the nation and here in Florida, police agencies have urged bans on assault weapons and the sale of high-capacity magazines, while supporting universal background checks, only to be ignored by politicians hypocritically claiming to be their champion.

Flynn summed it up best. "Here's what frosts me," the chief told the Milwaukee Sentinel. "I'm sitting up there and I'm hearing these smarmy crocodile tears (from the ban's opponents). 'Oh we respect law enforcement, but we can't keep AK-47s from being shot at you.' 'Oh, we're so sorry your children are dead. But we wouldn't dream of inconveniencing gun owners to do that.' "

Flynn had asked Congress to finally pick a side, hoping the nation's pols would choose law enforcement. To no one's surprise South Carolina's senator allied himself with the bullet pushers over the badges.

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