Gun Carry Laws Can Complicate Police Interactions Legal guns are a reality for police, especially in states with open-carry or concealed-carry laws. But there's no consistent guidance for either gun owners or police on how to react to such weapons.

Gun Carry Laws Can Complicate Police Interactions

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The attacks that left police dead in both Baton Rouge and Dallas are leading many big-city police chiefs to order officers to patrol with a partner when possible. Most states now allow concealed carry or open carry or both. And as NPR's Martin Kaste reports, police say that complicates things for them.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Rank-and-file cops tend to be pro-gun rights, but within limits. Steve Loomis is the head of the biggest police unit in Cleveland. He calls himself a Second-Amendment guy. But on Sunday, he asked Ohio Governor John Kasich to limit the state's open-carry law during this week's Republican convention. Here's Loomis talking to cleveland.com, saying that there were certain practical problems in having people walking around downtown carrying semi-automatic rifles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE LOOMIS: Somebody's going to be watching. There's going to be multiple police officers watching that person with that AR-15 when they should be over here watching, you know, for the guy that's not on his meds...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Right.

LOOMIS: ...That has a couple of handguns.

KASTE: That's one of the challenges for police. Even in states with open carry, when people see someone with a gun, they tend to call the cops. And then the police get the thankless job of challenging someone who may or may not be a threat. As one cop in Texas puts it, when you have all these people running around with guns and rifles, you don't know who the bad guy is. Another headache is concealed carry permits and the people who like to keep their guns secret, people such as Joseph Olson.

JOSEPH OLSON: Unless it's an essential part of what I'm doing, like defending myself, you know, whether or not I'm carrying at any given time is something I never say.

KASTE: Olson's a retired law professor who led the campaign to make Minnesota a concealed carry state back in 2003. He says he thought Minnesota police had adapted to the reality of legal guns until he was pulled over by an especially nervous-seeming cop.

OLSON: His voice has a tremor in it. And I remember thinking to myself, oh, my God (laughter). I decided when I heard his voice that I was not going to introduce another element into the transaction.

KASTE: In Minnesota, gun owners don't have to tell the police they have a gun unless they're asked. Instructors give conflicting advice on this, but cops say they appreciate being told as soon as possible. Most of them have stories about close calls when someone showed their gun the wrong way.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Do you realize you almost died tonight?

KASTE: This is a Minnesota cop recalling what he said to one such gun owner. We're not giving the officer's name because he doesn't have permission from work to talk about this. The close call happened during a routine traffic stop.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: So I said, I see you have a permit to carry. Do you have a firearm in the vehicle? And yeah - and he - and it just - yeah. Yeah, it's right here. And he reaches over to his passenger seat. And I'm going - oh, stop. Don't move. And he grabs this shirt, and I can then see a gun in it. And he's grabbing it.

KASTE: Minnesota is still adjusting to its status as a concealed carry state. And after the deadly police shooting of a gun-carrying black man named Philando Castile a couple of weeks ago, lawmakers wonder whether both the police and permit-holders are getting the best instructions. Scott Dibble is a state senator from Minneapolis. He favors maximum transparency.

SCOTT DIBBLE: Seems like the right thing to do is to say Officer, I'm a concealed carry permit holder. I have a firearm. I don't want you to be surprised should you see it.

KASTE: Then again, he says that's reportedly what Philando Castile was trying to do when he got shot by a police officer. The officer's lawyer says the shooting was in response to the presence of a gun. Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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