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Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.

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The Aurora Tragedy and Off-Duty Carry

Some movie theaters not only bar civilians from carrying guns but also off-duty officers. Maybe Aurora has taught them a lesson.

July 23, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

Like many of you, I spent the weekend often thinking about the tragedy in Aurora, Colo. After the initial gut-punch sensation at hearing the news, the next thing that struck me was the remarkable response time of the Aurora Police Department. One would not want to envision how much worse things might have been  absent their ability to heroically corral the shooter and obtain intel regarding his heavily booby-trapped room.

But even with that incredible response time, the shooter was able to tally up the highest number of victims in America's sordid history of mass shooters. In the hours following the incident, officers across the country posted their thoughts on Facebook, Police_L and elsewhere. Much ensuing debate revolved around speculation about the presence or absence of any armed patrons inside the theater and what impact an off-duty cop might have brought to bear on the matter.

It's a valid topic for discussion, not only as it relates to theater patronage, but as it pertains to officers frequenting any public or private establishment.

It is unlikely that many on-duty or off-duty cops could have conceivably been in a theoretical position to stop the Virginia Tech or Columbine massacres, unless they were school officers, guest lecturers, members of the faculty, or students themselves.

But I can point to those instances where off-duty officers have mitigated the loss of life and stopped such threats. It was a Texas Department of Public Safety officer who chased the Luby's shooter into a restroom where the man killed himself.  It was an off-duty Ogden, Utah, police officer who intervened at the Salt Lake City Trolley Square Mall shooting. It was the tagteam effort of two civilian on-duty police sergeants that ended Nidal Malik Hasan's shooting rampage at Fort Hood.

Being a paranoid-in-training, I have often thought that a movie theater is an ideal shooting gallery, as filmgoers are effectively boxed in, hemmed in, and seated. That was why I was surprised to hear that a majority of the Aurora audience was able to escape at least physically unscathed. Had the shooter opened fire at the some of the theaters I know of, the sole exit would have been through him. Such realities factor in my decision to carry whenever I see a film or patronize locations where groups of people are known to congregate.

That isn't to say any officer confronting the Aurora shooter wouldn't have had his hands full. Not only would he or she have been going up against a formidably armed man, but one who had taken the time to fortify himself with head-to-toe ballistic armor.

But whether an off-duty officer might succeed in even taking the suspect out, in engaging the man an off-duty officer would possibly avail others invaluable seconds in which to escape while the shooter's attention was otherwise engaged.

Despite this truth, many businesses prohibit officers from carrying their firearms with them while off-duty. Incredibly, some even solicit the patronage of police officers and their families for "Public Service Appreciation" events before telling them to leave their firearms outside the park. To my mind, this is remarkably short-sighted, not only for the reasons previously discussed but it deprives them of a supplementary response force in the event of an emergency.

If I were one of the people responsible for establishing such prohibitions, I would be far less concerned about whether a police officer carried his handgun into a venue than the manner in which he or she carried it. No one wants a cop to leave his or her weapon behind and accessible to children and actual dirtbags. But going so far as to telling officers they cannot carry their duty weapons inside?

I look at it this way: If I comply with the request of an unarmed representative of the Admission Gate Task Force asking me to secure my weapon inside my vehicle or elsewhere, it is because I choose to. I can, and have just declined to do so and opted for some other entertainment.

But how much mileage would such a request get from some psycho intent on behaving badly? Do you think he is going to comply? And should he choose not to, how effective is your unarmed cadre of personnel going to be at stopping him from doing what he came to do in the first place?

One of the few truly intelligent things I have seen come out of Washington this past decade was the LEOSA legislation that allowed officers to carry in states outside their jurisdictions. If our government, many of whom represent a far-left constituency hell-bent against firearms, can recognize the valid need to allow armed carry for peace officers across state lines, then one would hope that the owners of sports arenas, concert venues, amusement parks, and other heavily patronized establishments would see the light as well. But thus far, many haven't.

For my part, I often end up sneaking my sidearm inside while security knocks themselves out rifling through the wife's purse and the kid's backpack. But it shouldn't have to be this way.

I am anxious to hear from you your thoughts on both the Aurora shooting and whether or not officers should be allowed to carry irrespective of the philosophy of an establishment's management. Are there some legitimate liability concerns I am not seeing here? And if there isn't, what can we do to change this ill-considered notion of keeping officers from carrying inside the places they patronize?

Maybe we can start a boycott list…


Colo. Shooting Suspect Appears Dazed In First Court Appearance

Observant SWAT Cops, Jammed Gun Saved Lives In Colo. Shooting

Colo. Gun Range Owner: James Holmes Was 'Creepy, Weird'

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