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How law enforcement could be affected by bipartisan gun reform laws

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is hoping to finalize a deal on new gun laws by the end of the week. Actor Matthew McConaughey, whose hometown is Uvalde, Texas, is among some high-profile visitors to Washington who are asking Congress to act and act now.

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MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Can both sides rise above? Can both sides see beyond the political problem at hand and admit that we have a life preservation problem on our hands?

FADEL: The proposals being negotiated on Capitol Hill are not expected to include an assault weapons ban like President Biden wants, but they could incentivize state red flag laws, strengthen mental health programs and expand background checks. What would the proposed measures mean for law enforcement? Joining us is Art Acevedo, former chief of police in Austin, Houston and Miami. Good morning.

ART ACEVEDO: Hey, good morning. How are you?

FADEL: I'm doing all right. I hope you are, too.

ACEVEDO: I am. Thank you.

FADEL: How difficult is it for law enforcement to do its job when civilians can be fully armed on the street in places like Texas, where you served as a police chief for many years?

ACEVEDO: It's very difficult. I mean, it's akin to actually working, patrolling, trying to keep the American people safe with one hand behind your back.

FADEL: When I think about Uvalde, police didn't go into the classroom for a long time, in part because the gunman had an assault rifle, and he could shoot a lot of people quickly. And yet an assault weapons ban isn't on the table in these negotiations. So I want to ask you, how do police deal with civilians carrying around these military-style weapons?

ACEVEDO: You know, it's difficult. It's dangerous. There's a reason why police officers are getting killed at a higher rate and why these mass shootings are occurring. And the weapon of choice of the - is the AR-15, a semiautomatic long rifle. And it's next to impossible for officers. The rounds are very dangerous. They're very damaging, and it's very difficult to survive these attacks. And so, you know, we need to do a much better job. We need some political courage, and we need to keep these firearms in the hands of law-abiding Americans with sound minds. And if nothing else, if you're not going to get rid of them, if you're not going to ban them, at least raise the age to 21. We know that there's a law that would have made a difference in Buffalo and in Uvalde. And so that's what Republicans have said don't exist. And there's two examples right there of a law that could have made a difference.

FADEL: So would red flag laws and expanded background checks, which are on the table, help police stop gun violence?

ACEVEDO: Absolutely. I mean, if we enhanced the background checks, if we closed the Charleston loophole with - from three days to do the backgrounds to 10 days, there'll be tens of thousands of prohibited purchasers that won't be able to get handguns or other firearms, and we will be able to save lives. And at the end of the day, that's the No. 1 reason we form communities and governments, is to safeguard the lives, the well-being of the American people. And we are failing them. We're failing children. We're failing teachers. We're failing shoppers. We're failing theatregoers. And I believe the lives of the Americans are more important than the political lives of the politicians not wanting to do their jobs.

FADEL: What would be on your wish list for laws that would help law enforcement fight gun violence?

ACEVEDO: It's not just my wish list. I mean, I think McConaughey got it right. It's in the wish list of most Americans. It's enhanced backgrounds, red flag laws, closing the loophole, 21 years of age at least to get these firearms - so basically the high-caliber long rifles - and also to enforce the laws when people are out actually committing violence every day. We cannot coddle violent criminals. So the quicker we act, the quicker that we're more - best-positioned to actually save lives. And I think until it becomes a litmus test for the American people, we're not going to see the action that needs to be taken to save lives.

FADEL: Do you want a ban on assault weapons?

ACEVEDO: You know what? I can tell you that I personally - I'm a realist. I don't think it's going to happen. So I want to have, on a personal level, a middle ground. But I can tell you the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which I was - I'm the immediate past president of - that's part of their proposal, you know, that - to ban assault rifles. What I don't want is inaction. And that's what we've had for many years. And it's intolerable, and we shouldn't tolerate it as Americans.

FADEL: In the few seconds we have left, do you have hope in the negotiations in Washington right now?

ACEVEDO: We have to hold on to hope. We have no choice. And if 21 innocent lives in school, another 10 in Buffalo and untold others that have happened in the last few weeks and the thousands every year across this country of everyday gun violence don't make a difference, I don't think anything will, and the only way to change it is through the ballot box and the American people, again, making it a litmus test for the people they're electing.

FADEL: Art Acevedo is a former police chief of Austin, Houston and Miami. Thank you for taking the time.

ACEVEDO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.