By Garth Kant
A war of words between Milwaukee’s two top cops over Second Amendment rights has gone national, and now it’s getting personal.
Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. is using public service announcements to encourage residents to arm themselves because of a soaring violent-crime rate.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn says Clarke is just seeking attention and trying to boost his reelection efforts. Flynn has criticized Republicans in Congress and gun groups for opposing new firearms restrictions.
But even the Huffington Post finds Flynn over-the-top when it comes to gun control. HuffPo notes that a few years ago, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen affirmed that state residents were legally permitted to openly carry a gun in public.
Flynn responded, “My message to my troops is if you see anybody carrying a gun on the streets of Milwaukee, we’ll put them on the ground, take the gun away and then decide whether you have a right to carry it.”
The police chief was just as aggressive at a Senate judiciary hearing last week. He testified in support of an “assault weapons” ban, saying most innocent people do not use such weapons to defend themselves.
Now, Clarke is apologizing for Flynn’s behavior “on behalf of my constituents.” On Tuesday, Clarke revealed the contents of a letter to judiciary committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. In the letter, the sheriff accuses Flynn of being “embarrassing” and “rude.”
“I watched in utter disbelief as [Flynn] talked over you and interrupted you,” Clarke wrote.
The sheriff added, “Please do not see [Flynn’s] arrogance as exemplary of the people of Milwaukee County.
“I have a forceful personality but would not even dream of coming up to Capitol Hill to disrespect and shout down a member of Congress,” wrote Clarke.
He said Flynn’s real goal is “gun control, not a reduction in street violence” and his “viewpoint does not represent either my view on gun control nor countless other law-abiding citizens and gun owners in Milwaukee County.”
Clarke’s letter also called Flynn a “mouthpiece for the Mayors Against Guns group that has made no secret of their desire to obliterate the Second Amendment.”
Flynn shot back, “I’m not interested in getting into a feud with a politician trying to raise funds for his next campaign.”
He also said: “I was frustrated because I was hearing talking points. I wasn’t in a discussion. I was hearing an NRA talking point coming out of the mouth of the senator.”
Flynn has since gone on national television to compare Second Amendment rights with what he calls community rights.
“I think it’s fundamental that we start to respond, recognizing that the rights of communities are every bit as important as the rights of individuals,” he said.
Flynn and Clarke have had a war of words over gun control since December’s school shootings in Newton, Conn.
Clarke entered the national spotlight in January with a public service announcement on local radio telling people not to count on a rapid response from police to 911 calls. He said people should consider taking gun-safety courses “so you can defend yourself until we get there.”
A second radio ad that began running Friday seemed to target the Milwaukee Police Department.
“Violent crime went up nearly 10 percent in Milwaukee. Are you the next victim?” Clarke says. “You don’t have to be, but that’s your call.”
“Now it’s the crook who has to wonder what you might do,” Clarke says. “It could be a great equalizer, but you always have to think survival.”
The ad also aims at a “soft on crime court system” that releases armed criminals, while law-abiding citizens may find a gun for self-protection harder to obtain.
It’s not just the police chief Clarke is battling over gun rights.
He debated the issue with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett on Piers Morgan’s CNN program.
Barrett is a co-founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and a supporter of Obama’s call for more gun control. The group favors an “assault weapons” ban and tighter limits on the capacity of ammunition magazines.
On CNN,Clarke brought up a 2009 incident near the Wisconsin State Fair in which a man wielding a tire iron severely beat Barrett.
“I’m sure that if you had a gun and a plan that day, the outcome would have been a little different,” Clarke said.
“I’m asking that law-abiding citizens who make the decision that they see their personal security as their individual responsibility in a like situation can respond as they see fit.”
Things took an ugly turn after the CNN appearance.
Clarke, who is black, said he received a threatening and racist email.
It reads, “You lousy Uncle Tom piece of s***. I wish to hell somebody would shoot you. And what’s with that stupid hat? When people call you a dumb f****** n*****, I don’t disagree at all.”
The sheriff responded: “As a public official, I’m expected to put up with a lot and I do, but I am not going to put up with the type of behavior that was in that e-mail message.”
Clarke said the man who made the threat is in custody. He has not yet been charged. Investigators are seeing if they can charge the suspect with a hate crime, which could mean years behind bars.
Five years ago, the man accused of sending the email pleaded guilty to making a threatening phone call.