Durbin Questions Witnesses In Judiciary Committee Hearing On The Threat America's Gun Violence Epidemic Poses To Law Enforcement

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned witnesses at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Law Enforcement Officer Safety: Protecting Those Who Protect and Serve.” The hearing focused on the threat that our nation’s gun violence epidemic poses to law enforcement officers.  Firearm-related fatalities were the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths in 2021 after COVID-19, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). 

Durbin first questioned Commissioner Michael Harrison of the Baltimore Police Department about military-style assault weapons used against law enforcement. He also asked about claims by his Republican colleagues that the way to prevent mass shootings is to arm more civilians.

“We know from Highland Park and other places that AR-15s are becoming a common weapon used against police and innocent civilians. We think there are 10 million to 20 million of these assault weapons that have been sold in this country. I want to start with Commissioner Harrison. Commissioner, you’ve seen this firsthand, some people argue if we just give more Americans guns that they can carry, we will be safer. I question that   -whether you are a policeman or a member of the military, you need to be trained to use a weapon to be effective with that weapon. Even if we wanted to have more people carrying weapons to protect the police, what are your thoughts in terms of this proliferation of firearms?” asked Durbin.

Commissioner Harrison confirmed, “the data does not support that more legal, law-abiding citizens carrying guns makes us safer.” In one recent survey of 433 active shooter attacks, only 22 or about five percent, were stopped by an armed bystander.

Durbin then questioned Angel Novalez, Chief of Constitutional Policing and Reform at the Chicago Police Department, about the type of guns used to harm law enforcement and others in Chicago. Chief Novalez stated they are recovering more assault style weapons. He concluded that, “it’s incredibly scary for our officers to know that they have to go out there and be outmanned and outgunned.”

The hearing also focused on Chicago Police Officer Ella French, who was tragically shot and killed by a straw-purchased gun nearly one year ago. Today, Durbin introduced the Officer Ella Grace French Task Force Support Act of 2022, legislation that would authorize the use of Department of Justice Project Safe Neighborhood funds to support multi-jurisdictional task forces that investigate and disrupt illicit straw purchasing and firearms trafficking activity. 

Studies indicate that police officers in the United States are more likely to be fatally shot in states with higher levels of gun ownership and weaker gun laws.  Of the firearms officers encounter in the line of duty, assault rifles represent a unique threat to law enforcement, in part because bullets fired from an AR-15 are powerful enough to pierce soft body armor—the most commonly worn form of body armor by police.  Gun violence and associated trauma also cause officers to face a myriad of challenges to their wellness and mental health, and data indicate that suicide rates are currently at crisis levels among public safety officers.  The hearing focused on ways to help ensure that law enforcement officers, who all too often are called upon to run toward the sound of gunfire, are able to return home safe at the end of each shift.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.