The fatal police car stop in Minnesota more than a week ago exposes a new reality in the gun rights era. Gun carriers and officers aren't being given consistent instructions on what to do to avoid the use of lethal force during interactions with police.
Rank-and-file police tend to be pro-gun rights but within limits. Steve Loomis is head of the biggest police union in Cleveland — he calls himself a "Second-Amendment guy," but on Sunday he asked Ohio Gov. John Kasich to limit the state's open-carry law during this week's Republican convention.
Loomis, talking to Cleveland.com, said there are certain practical problems in having people walk around downtown carrying semi-automatic rifles.
"Somebody's going to be watching, there's going to be multiple police officers watching that person with the AR-15, when they should be over here watching for the guy who's not on his meds that has a couple of handguns," Loomis says.
That's one of the challenges for police: Even in states with open-carry, when people see someone with a gun, they tend 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.
"Unless it's an essential part of what I'm doing, like defending myself, whether or not I'm carrying it at any given time, is something I never say," says Joseph Olson, 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.
"His voice had a tremor in it and I remember thinking to myself, 'Oh, my God.' I decided when I heard his voice that I was not going to introduce another element into the transaction."
In Minnesota, gun owners don't have to tell police they have a gun unless 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.
An unidentified police officer in Minnesota recounts such an incident: "Do you realize that you almost died tonight," he asks a gun owner. We're not giving the officer's name, because he doesn't have permission from work to talk about the incident. The close-call happened during a routine traffic stop.
"I see you have a permit to carry," the officer says. "Do you have a firearm with you?"
"Yeah," the motorist says, and then he reaches over to the passenger seat.
"Stop. Don't move," the officer says. He adds the driver then grabs a shirt and he can see a gun in it, and the driver's grabbing it.
Police have shot motorists for a lot less than that. 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 nearly two weeks ago, lawmakers wonder whether both police and permit-holders are getting the best instructions.
Scott Dibble is a state senator from Minneapolis; he favors maximum transparency.
"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."
Then again, Dibble 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."