First things first: D.C. Council member David Grosso would like to assure you he has no plans to introduce a bill banning police officers in the District from carrying guns.
But Grosso’s offhand comments, aired at a Wednesday night D.C. Council hearing on policing practices, have certainly stirred up the conversation he says he wanted to start.
“My staff won’t let me tell you that I think we ought to get rid of guns in this city, and that police shouldn’t have guns, so I’m not going to tell you that,” he said at Howard University to a smattering of applause. “I think we have to reimagine the way that we relate to one another, across the board, and that includes [the D.C. police department].”
Grosso’s comments went from his mouth to tweets to the Associated Press wire and on to the realm of conservative media, where his offhand remark has summarized thusly: “DC Councilman Wants To Take Cops’ Guns.”
“I’m not introducing any legislation,” Grosso (I-At Large) said in a Thursday phone interview. “I’m just trying to have a conversation beyond the knee jerk of what people say all the time.”
That means, he said, challenging the orthodoxy of assuming that all cops need to carry firearms at all times: “When you have a gun, it changes the dynamic completely. If we had a police force that could be trained to de-escalate situations without a gun like in other countries, I think we’d be in a better place. … Call me a radical, but I’m trying to change things in our city.”
Grosso said he is struck by the lack of trust that exists between D.C. police and the city’s residents, as evidenced by testimony at Wednesday’s hearing and his own conversations with some of his neighbors, who he says have “no relationship to speak of” with police.
“We’re not going to increase that level of trust unless we change things dramatically,” he said. “What I’m saying is, here’s a dramatic suggestion. It’s been tossed around historically, but let’s have an honest conversation about guns. … Violence begets violence, I believe that. I bought into that a long time ago.”
Gwendolyn Crump, a police spokeswoman, declined to comment on Grosso’s suggestion.
Grosso suggested that, for instance, among officers assigned to a particular patrol area, only some might carry weapons. “I’m not naive here. I don’t believe there will be a time when there will be no guns,” he said. “But let’s try and find a way to reduce the number of incidents when you have a police officer who is trying to relate to the community in a positive way but has a gun on their belt. … Maybe no guns isn’t the answer, but we have to come up with something, and I think we’re smart enough to do this.”
The applause that Grosso’s comments generated Wednesday would suggest he might find a sympathetic audience among the liberal District populace. But perhaps not, given that the city is barely a year removed from a devastating mass shooting, where D.C. beat cops were among the first to respond.
Presented with the classic bad-guy-with-a-gun, active shooter scenario, Gross was unfazed. “We ought to legislate and create policies based on the overwhelming examples of what happens every day, not on extreme cases,” he said.