Photo: AP

No professional group in America has a more direct interest in gun control than police officers. No labor group in America is more consistently despicable than police unions. There is an opportunity here.

As labor organizations representing hundreds of thousands of working class public employees across the nation, police unions have a right to exist and a legitimate role to play. As political organizations that act as the public face of police forces, police unions are most notable for their frequent failures. They are brash, aggressive, insensitive, and sometimes downright racist in situations when the opposite qualities are called for. And, like caricatures of the worst tendencies of unions, they almost invariably circle the wagons and protect officers no matter how blatant their misconduct. If you believe the heads of police unions in America’s biggest cities, there has never been an unjustified police shooting of a civilian. Don’t trust your own lying eyes.

There are two primary victims of the stone age mafioso tendencies of police unions. The first is the public, who suffers directly from the fact that incompetent and sometimes dangerous officers remain on the streets due to union protection. The second are all of the competent police officers—middle class public employees who do a job that we all agree needs doing and who deserve better than to be characterized by their very worst elements.

If you accept that the majority of police officers are not psychos, thugs, or inveterate racists (and that point can be argued over another time), then it becomes even more incredible that major police forces are represented by such consistently awful union mouthpieces. Seizing control of the local police union and using its platform for good is a wonderful cause for any group of police officers tired of being hated by society to embrace. Imagine a world in which police unions spoke out against racism in policing, stop and frisk policies, and unjustified shootings. America would be a different place. It is always hard for a union to speak out against the actions of a member, but it is much harder for many thousands of union members who do their jobs well to be forced to pretend that they agree and stand in solidarity with the vile actions of their most degenerate coworkers.

It is hard to say when, if ever, police unions will ever be revolutionized by their members who are sick of being seen as America’s villains. On one issue, though, cops and union leaders of all political stripes should be able to agree: gun control. There is no profession in America more susceptible to harm from widespread gun ownership. The militarization of police forces—a project whose drawbacks are now becoming quite clear—is driven at least in part by the fact that police feel they must outgun all of the citizens they might encounter. And in our country, the citizens have a lot of fucking guns.

Politicians fear the NRA. But do you know who has no reason to fear the political clout of the NRA? Cops. The NRA’s base loves cops. The NRA may be willing to disregard the deaths of civilians in mass shootings, but is hard to imagine the NRA getting itself into a public relations war with police unions calling for gun control in the wake of premeditated shooting murders of police officers. That is a losing battle. Respect for the law and for those who enforce it is a belief that is dearly held by the same people who hold the protection of the Second Amendment in the very highest regard. Police unions have the ability to force people to make a choice between those two values. Perhaps the right wing would choose its guns over its oft-state respect for law enforcement. Perhaps not. They’ve never had to choose. The police have never asked them to. Sporadic gestures notwithstanding, the police have never made a concerted and unified effort to promote gun control as an issue of police safety. If they did, it would be the first time in recent memory that the interests of the American public and the interests of police unions aligned.

Save the lives of civilians. Save the lives of cops. And expose the NRA (to those who have not yet grasped it) as the callous, heartless extremists that they are. These things are within the power of police unions today. All they have to do is stop acting so fucking crazy.