Shootings and killings barely make the news in major American cities, but in a rural county outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, residents are alarmed by a recent wave of violent crime and they’re looking for answers from their sheriff.
Harnett County Sheriff Larry Rollins didn’t hesitate to give a straight answer. When called upon at a prayer vigil Monday night, he urged them to get armed and get serious about defending their homes.
“Even though I’m a cop, I don’t go anywhere without a gun,” he told about 130 residents who gathered at a local church to discuss and pray about a string of shootings that have left several people dead or injured over the past two weeks. “I want my deputies to get there just as fast as they possibly can if you’ve got a problem. But you better be able to take care of business before we get there if you need to protect your family.”
His comments follow similar statements in recent months from the police chief in Detroit and the sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.
And in October 2011 Sheriff Chuck Wright of Spartanburg County, South Carolina, urged residents, and especially women, to arm themselves after a woman was attacked in a park and forced to take her clothes off by a man who then tried to rape her.
“Carry a concealed weapon, that’ll fix it,” Wright said at a news conference.
Many gun-rights advocates see Detroit Police Chief James Craig an anomaly, being the top cop in a major urban area where Democratic politics normally rule the day – and stifle any pro-gun talk by hired city employees. Yet, Craig, a former advocate of gun control when he worked in Los Angeles and Cincinnati, appears to have “seen the light,” said Jerry Henry, president and founder of GeorgiaCarry.org.
“Most of the sheriffs in the country believe in the Second Amendment. It’s an elected office so they don’t have much choice,” Henry said, noting that rural and semi-rural sheriffs particularly must support the Second Amendment if they want to keep getting elected.
“My opinion is, if police chiefs believe in this right, they should state that, but they’re hired by mayors and city councils that often are not in favor of gun ownership so that’s more unusual, especially in the bigger cities,” Henry said. “The chief of Detroit, he was a strong proponent of gun control but when he got over there (to Detroit), he saw the light.”
Or, perhaps Craig just felt freer in Detroit to state his true beliefs.
“That’s all political with police chiefs, I can assure you of that,” Henry said. “I have seen police chiefs of universities who have made some rather stupid statements because their boss was there when I knew for a fact they didn’t believe what they were saying. I won’t name names, but they say what the boss wants them to say for the most part.”
And Craig has been able to point to some hard numbers showing a decrease in Detroit crime since he went public in January saying that residents should arm themselves. Detroit has experienced 37 percent fewer robberies in 2014 than during the same period last year, 22 percent fewer break-ins of businesses and homes and 30 percent fewer carjackings.
“Criminals are getting the message that good Detroiters are armed and will use that weapon,” Craig told the Detroit News last month. “I don’t want to take away from the good work our investigators are doing, but I think part of the drop in crime, and robberies in particular, is because criminals are thinking twice that citizens could be armed.”
Like Craig in Detroit, the Milwaukee County sheriff, David Clarke, also stands out as the rare head of an urban police agency who has had the courage to stand up for gun rights.
Clarke ran radio spots last year suggesting that Milwaukeeans might have better success fighting crime by arming themselves than by calling 9-1-1. He was then skewered in a CNN interview by gun-control advocate Piers Morgan.
“Clarke is I think the most articulate,” said Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America. “He stares right at the camera, and he says something like, ‘We can’t be there the moment a criminal is attacking, so you’re going to need to be able to take care of yourself during the time I need to get my guys there. … Can I count on you?’ I love the guy. I’ve had the privilege of meeting him and when I hear him speak, it’s like, this guy is one of us!”
The community meeting held at Spring Hill United Methodist Church in Lillington, North Carolina, came in response to a week of bloody violence in western Harnett County. Three people were hurt in a shooting last Wednesday and an 18-year-old man was shot and killed Saturday night, his body found behind a dumpster at a shopping center in a case that has so far netted no suspects.
Rollins, the local sheriff, said the area has experienced a population boom in recent years and that has brought violent gangs and drugs.
“Violence is all around us,” he said. “I mean it’s sad we have to have that attitude, but I am going to protect myself and my family.”
Dan Cannon, who blogs at GunsSaveLives.net, wrote Tuesday, “It sounds like Sheriff Larry Rollins has the right idea. In the battle for America’s gun rights, it seems more and more that elected sheriffs are more often than not on the side of gun rights while many appointed police chiefs, especially in larger cities, seem to favor gun control.”
WND reported on the growing ideological divide between America’s cities and rural areas in an August 2013 special report in Whistleblower Magazine.
Pratt concurred that more sheriffs are likely to support gun rights than big-city police chiefs. But sometimes, the police chiefs are simply parroting the views of their bosses in the mayor’s office.
“It’s more likely to come from a sheriff than it would be from a cop, which is all the more amazing that the chief of Detroit and the sheriff of Milwaukee County would say anything,” he said. “How refreshing. What a nice thing to hear that we now have this North Carolina sheriff pretty much saying the same thing. It’s very encouraging, because we didn’t hear this many statements coming from law enforcement like this five years ago.”
He said most top cops, whether they be sheriffs or police chiefs, are afraid to speak publicly in favor of an armed citizenry because they could end up in the next day’s headlines in the establishment media, part of a story casting them in a negative light.
“They’re going to look over their shoulder and fear the blow back from the media, and really the media might be the only ones to pooh-pooh what they might say – that’s what I’ve seen in my time with Gun Owners of America,” Pratt said. “If the Harris poll would ask, should we have more gun control?, they used to get over 75 percent of the people saying yes. But during the fight last year over expanding the background check for private sales, which is I think the hardest issue for us to engage on, they didn’t quite even get at 50 percent. And we won that fight.
“So I think we’ve made substantial progress talking to the public and it’s having an impact,” Pratt continued. “People are recognizing, like the bumper sticker says, ‘When seconds count, the cops will be there in minutes,’ so it’s like, duh, where is my right to defend my home?”
So, seeing a series of chiefs and sheriffs standing on the side of self-defense is encouraging, Pratt said.
“When somebody who is in a respected position like a chief or a sheriff, asks, ‘Can I count on you?’ Whoa. That’s powerful.”
Henry, of Georgia Carry, said he agrees with Detroit’s chief that no gun carrier should go off looking for a fight with criminals. But when the fight comes to them personally, it helps to be ready.
“He said he’s not for vigilantism and he’s not for people arming themselves to play policeman, and I agree with him, because a lot of times what you see happening may not be as it appears and you can get yourself in a big mess,” Henry said. “In my opinion, you don’t seek it out, but if you’re the one being attacked or you’re part of a group being attacked, that’s different.”