Campaign Platform: Arm the ‘Homeless’ and Disrespect Cops

The Guardian reported recently an unusual story out of Michigan about a man called Brian Ellison. He’s the likely Libertarian Party U.S. Senate candidate expected to run against incumbent Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow in November’s midterm elections. Ellison has an unorthodox, to say the least, plan to help the “homeless” (by the way, a term I dislike because it’s mostly inaccurate and dilutes the situations of those who are truly without a home due to an unplanned crisis. I’ll use street-people instead because that term doesn’t suggest automatic virtue and victimhood).

What is Ellison’s plan to help street-people in Michigan? Taking a page from former Vice President Joe Biden’s self-defense strategy, Ellison is encouraging street-people to “get yourself a shotgun.”  He says he’d prefer to arm them with handguns, but “due to the licensing requirements in the state we’re going to have a hard enough time getting homeless people shotguns as it is.” As Ellison points out, because most street-people are by definition address-less, they would not qualify for a concealed pistol license (CPL). However, he points out that in Michigan, “open-carrying a long gun [rifle or shotgun] is completely legal.”

How would this work in real life? For one thing, how does the aspiring senator expect a street-person to carry a shotgun around with him or her all day every day and to keep it secure from theft while sleeping? I suppose they could use slings, but that still leaves a bulky firearm to tote around all day. Anyone think the urge to sell the gun would be hard to resist for a population with little money and often in desperate need of alcohol or drugs? Just saying.

As a cop, while my department still had shotguns in every patrol car, many officers hesitated to deploy them, and for good reason. Though a shotgun could be immensely useful in certain situations, I thought of many circumstances where it could become a liability. What was I supposed to do with it if the situation changed, lean it up against a wall so I could climb up that fire escape after the suspect? What if I saw another officer in a physical fight? Should I lay the gun on the ground while I helped? If I as a cop might have problems lugging the thing around on the job, wouldn’t your average street-person have troubles too?

“Homeless people are one of the most marginalized and victimized people in this country. We need to step up and help these people protect themselves. This problem cannot be ignored any longer. Consider joining my campaign to help Arm The Homeless.” (Credit: Facebook/Brian Ellison for US Senate)

Then I had a thought. Is this simply a clever publicity stunt? Is Ellison just playing us, using “shotguns for the homeless” specifically to get attention? I ask because, while it would be difficult for street-people to get a CPL, as he says, people can open carry handguns in Michigan just like they can with shotguns.

From the Michigan Open Carry, Inc. website, “A person without a CPL may legally open carry a pistol… [in Michigan].” So, where’s the benefit in arming street-people with bulky, unwieldy shotguns when it’s much easier and safer to carry a pistol in a secure holster? If given a choice to open-carry a firearm, especially living on the streets, I’d take the handgun any day.

Prophets of Rage guitarist, Tom Morello, touting Brian Ellison’s campaign message of “arming the homeless.” (Facebook/Prophets of Rage)

Another question I have for Mr. Ellison is who will pay for this program? The government? Private organizations? Is this a campaign promise? Not sure senators do such things. In the article, Ellison did not make the financial aspects of the program clear. Government paying to arm any non-military, non-law enforcement, private citizen doesn’t seem like a libertarian idea—big “L” or little “l.”

I believe all Americans should be free to exercise all of their rights, including those of the Second Amendment. Just because you don’t have a home for whatever reason, as long as you have no disqualifying mental or criminal issues, you still have a right to self-defense. Obviously, if you have a right to self-defense, you have a commensurate right to acquire the best available means to that defense. But you also have the coexisting responsibility to keep your firearms secure.

Ellison described his program: first, interview the street-person to make sure he or she wants a shotgun for protection. As a Libertarian, he doesn’t want to force anyone to have a gun who doesn’t want one. For those who do, he (or whomever) would provide ammunition for the shotguns, about six shells. He also says the gun owners would get more shells if they legitimately used their ammo to defend themselves. But, if they were found to have been plinking cans in a vacant lot, then their ammo allotment (at least from the program) dries up.

Which brings us to where, for me, Ellison ran off the rails—or, I’m sure for many, even further off. It has nothing to do with the merits and liabilities of the plan, but in betraying the candidate’s bias against law enforcement. He did this when responding to an apparent comment about the danger associated with arming street-people. Ellison apparently sees more danger from armed cops.

Ellison told The Guardian he did not believe the plan was dangerous, then he asked, “Well, are you worried about the police being armed with military weapons?” He continued, “I am. The world we live in is a scary world, where the police who used to dress in short-sleeved shirts and carry a revolver now have long rifles with scopes and bulletproof vests and armored vehicles.”

Libertarian Party candidate for US Senate, Brian Ellison, aims to arm the homeless population.(Facebook/Brian Ellison for US Senate).

Think about this: a man running for the U.S. Senate, who wants to proactively arm people living in tent-cities, on park benches, and under bridges, believes the world is “scary,” not because of violent criminals or ISIS terrorists but because police now have improved equipment that saves cops’ lives. Is he suggesting taking bulletproof vests away from cops? According to the National Institute for Justice, there are over 3,000 officers alive today because of those “scary” vests.

Maybe he should ask those LAPD cops on duty that February day in 1997, during the North Hollywood shootout. Those police officers in short-sleeved shirts carrying revolvers were vastly outgunned by two bank robbers armed with automatic weapons and wearing bulletproof vests. Though police eventually shot and killed the robbers, it wasn’t until after they’d wounded eleven officers. Bet those cops would have been thrilled to have had a few more “military” weapons on their side that day.

I suspect I may be right about the publicity-seeking nature of Ellison’s suggestion to arm people living on the streets. But I could be wrong. Maybe he truly believes it’s a good idea. It’s his right to suggest any idea he wants. However, I take issue with his exploiting law enforcement by making them a bogeyman in contrast to armed street-people.

Don’t cops have enough groups after them without it coming from a Libertarian Party candidate who purports to support the U.S. Constitution, individual liberty, and limited government? Well, that limited government includes government, throughout all levels of the criminal justice system, helping Peter protect himself and his stuff from Paul.

Cops help people pursue their happiness. If Mr. Ellison doesn’t believe that, perhaps he needs to talk to a few more cops before disparaging them and their profession.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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