Gulfport police chief: Lawmakers need to listen to law enforcers about guns

Gulfport police chief: Lawmakers need to listen to law enforcers about guns

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania has had enough of gun violence and gun control.

Although he doesn't want to get political, Papania made it clear at Thursday's press conference that not only has he has chosen public safety over politics - he's tired of polarized viewpoints getting in the way.

"I am not advocating one side or another," Papania said. "And that's where we are missing the boat consistently. Because in these times, you're either on this side or that side and the people in the middle trying to make sense of it all are getting lost."

Crimes involving guns are picking up. There have been at least six shootings in Gulfport, and 16 in South Mississippi in the first three months of 2016.

High-profile cases such as teenager Ny-Gel Poole are always top of mind.

Papania says he will partner with any group, such as his Community Watch program, that will help put an end to violence.

While his passion is clear, so is the chief's frustration with state lawmakers when it comes to gun laws; particularly current House Bill 786, which would allow church members to carry guns.

"For some reason, the input of law enforcement is not solicited and when we do reach out, we are not getting a response," Papania said.

However, seeking a middle ground comes with a price.

"I'm going to get the hate emails, I'm going to get the phone calls from people on both sides of the issue," Papania said. "And that's the downfall. All I want to do is engage in conversation so we can make this a safer community."

The extremism, the chief said, is making the city less safe.

"There is a criminal subculture that is enjoying the political situation and us arguing about this instead of getting to the meat and potatoes of what's going on," Papania said. "There are some nuances to these laws that need to be considered. The fact that if a guy is standing over there in the median with an AK-47, I should be able to go over there an engage him in conversation about that gun."

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