News & Politics

After Santa Fe Shooting, Houston's Police Chief Plays Politics

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo. (Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP)

The modern police chief faces a daily choice. As he lays out his livery in the morning he must ask himself: Which hat do I wear today, the police officer’s or the politician’s? Far too often, they choose the latter.

The latest example of this is Art Acevedo, chief of the Houston Police Department. He has become a darling of the gun-control movement for his impassioned response to Friday’s shooting at Santa Fe High School in neighboring Galveston County. That evening, despite the demands the event placed on him and his department, Acevedo took the time to lecture his Facebook followers, and America at large, on gun control. “Today,” he wrote, “I spent the day dealing with another mass shooting of children and a responding police officer who is clinging to life. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve shed tears of sadness, pain and anger.”

What followed should serve as a reminder to people in authority that, in the wake of emotional trauma, it might be best to observe a period of calm reflection before airing one’s anguished thoughts in public. Acevedo continued:

I know some have strong feelings about gun rights but I want you to know I’ve hit rock bottom and I am not interested in your views as it pertains to this issue. Please do not post anything about guns aren’t the problem and there’s little we can do. My feelings won’t be hurt if you de-friend me and I hope yours won’t be if you decide to post about your views and I de-friend you.

And he went on to invoke God, taking aim at those whose “thoughts and prayers” he deems insufficient to the task at hand. “I will continue to speak up and will stand up for what my heart and my God commands me to do,” he wrote, “and I assure you he hasn’t instructed me to believe that gun-rights are bestowed by him.”

Perhaps God hasn’t addressed the issue to Chief Acevedo’s satisfaction, but the men who founded this country have, and absent divine instruction on the matter, I’m happy to defer to their judgment. “Gun rights” should be understood as encompassed in the right to self-defense, which the Framers did indeed believe was among the inalienable rights bestowed by our Creator. The Framers also believed this right was meaningless unless citizens had the means to defend themselves, i.e., guns.

Many may not grasp the distinction between police executives and rank-and-file cops, but it’s important to note that when police chiefs make pronouncements on matters of public policy, in most cases their opinions do not reflect those of their subordinates. Rather, a police chief’s opinions, at least those he’s willing to reveal in public, are far more likely to conform to the opinions of those who hold political power in his city. So it is with Chief Acevedo, who, in an appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, said he was grateful to be working “in a city with a mayor who’s transformative in Sylvester Turner.”

The state of Texas may be conservative as a whole, with a Republican governor and two Republican senators, but its major cities, like most in the country, are run by Democrats. Houston’s Mayor Turner, a graduate of Harvard Law School, has been in Democratic politics since 1984, so it’s unsurprising that Acevedo would engage in this bit of apple-polishing on national television. Also unsurprising, but disappointing, is Acevedo’s using that appearance to offer prescriptions on what should be done about gun violence in America. “We need to start using the ballot box and ballot initiatives to take the matters out of the hands of people who are doing nothing that are elected and into the hands of the people to see that the will of the people in this country is actually carried out.”

Asked by Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan what specific change in the law might have prevented the Santa Fe shooting, Acevedo offered a proposal that at first sounds reasonable. “One of the things we need to consider,” he said, “is if you have firearms in your home and you do not secure them and you don’t secure them in a manner that can preclude someone from grabbing them and taking them and carrying out this carnage, there’s a criminal liability that attaches.”

Again, the proposal sounds reasonable until you realize the safety it offers to some comes at the price of someone else’s.

A simple Google search using “child shoots intruder” returns 321,000 results, including this one, this one, and this one, which tell of incidents where the children of gun owners used those guns to defend themselves against home invaders. Would Chief Acevedo prefer these incidents have ended differently?

Finally, I refer you to a piece by Kevin Williamson that posted Monday at the Weekly Standard website. Chief Acevedo, Williamson reminds us, is an appointed official, not an elected one. As such, it is not his place to offer judgments on the propriety of anyone else’s opinions on gun control, or anything else. Surely there are a good many people in Houston who do not share Acevedo’s beliefs, yet he presumes to tell them their opinions are of no consequence to him and should be ignored by lawmakers.

Williamson tells us he’s met Acevedo and that he seems to be “a good guy with a tough job.” I’ll take Williamson’s word for it, but good guy or not, like most big-city police chiefs, he’s more politician than cop. And like those of any politician, be skeptical of his recommendations on how to improve your life.