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Sam Dotson

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, Sam Dotson during a Post-Dispatch Editorial Board meeting on Monday, February 4, 2013. Photo by Huy Mach/ hmach@post-dispatch.com

Even on the best days, a police officer’s job is complex. Our dual roles to both protect and serve require us to balance a great deal of things. We must be professional but not unapproachable, vigilant but not mistrustful, decisive but not hasty. Perhaps most of all, we must respect individual rights, and still defend collective public safety.

As chief of police, my main purpose is to help our officers maintain that balance, and one of the best means I have to do that is by fighting for rational public policy in areas that touch upon crime and criminal justice.

This is why I must once more raise my voice against Senate Bill 656, a bill in the Missouri Legislature that would bring the very opposite of rationality to a situation that is already suffering from a shortage of basic common sense.

SB 656 would end Missouri’s concealed carry permit requirement, which is one of just a few remaining checks and balances we have against the arming of violent criminals. It’s already too easy for lawless people to carry lethal weapons. This bill would make it even easier, and in the process, make things that much harder for peace officers who work to keep our communities safe.

In June, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed this dangerous and ill-advised proposal, but many, too many, of our legislators are threatening to override his veto this week.

I urge them to do the right thing instead: Put partisan politics aside, put public safety first and let SB 656 remain where it belongs: in the graveyard of bad ideas.

Let’s be very clear about what is, and is not, at stake here. Current Missouri law requires a permit and safety training in order to carry a concealed handgun in public. These requirements are anything but onerous. They are basic steps intended to protect us all, by ensuring that those who carry handguns in our neighborhoods have clean criminal records and the capacity to complete a rudimentary training course.

The proponents of SB 656 would have us believe that any administrative requirement for would-be public gun carriers is tantamount to a repeal of the Second Amendment.

Opponents of the bill believe something far less extreme: If a person wants to bear the great responsibility of carrying a loaded firearm on our streets, let him show us, at least, that he is responsible enough to obtain a permit by (a) filling out a simple form, and (b) completing a day’s worth of essential safety training.

Just as a driver’s license acts as a handy proof of one’s competence to lawfully drive a car, concealed carry permits help legal gun owners readily identify themselves to the police.

Removing the permit requirement would also remove that clarity, needlessly increasing the risk of confusion in encounters between armed citizens and armed officers.

At the same time, violent criminals would be emboldened by the knowledge that they can hide in plain sight, knowing there is no longer a good way for cops to distinguish between them and lawful gun owners.

Even with our current permit requirement in place, police officers routinely find themselves in harm’s way doing the job we ask them to do: to protect St. Louis from a deadly gun violence epidemic. Overriding SB 656 would be a clear step in the wrong direction. It would increase the risks officers face on the job, it would make their work even more difficult and it would, without question, leave all of us less safe.

Just as it does here in St. Louis, this bill poses serious public safety risks to other communities across the state. In recognition of this, other civic leaders have shared their concerns about SB 656. The police chief in Kansas City, the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police and even the Catholic bishops have joined their voices together in a chorus opposing this bill.

When our elected officials meet in Jefferson City for their annual override session, I hope they’ll think about our concerns and the challenges our officers will face. The men and women of my department, and agencies across our state, work hard and risk everything to keep our communities safe. The last thing they need is a legislature searching for new ways to make that job riskier and harder.

Sam Dotson is chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.