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When cops and civilians both have guns

NEW YORK - On Wednesday evening, police in Falcon Heights, Minn., fatally shot Philando Castile in his car. According to a video filmed by Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was sitting beside him when he was shot, Castile informed the officer that he had a firearm.

"He let the officer know that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him," Reynolds tells the camera.

"I told him not to reach for it," says the officer, whose face is unseen but whose gun is still pointed at the bleeding Castile in the driver's seat.

"You told him to get his ID, sir," responds Reynolds.

Aftermath of Minnesota police shooting stream... 02:46

Minnesota law enforcement have yet to confirm whether Castile did indeed have a permit to carry a firearm, but if he did, he is one of more than 230,000 such licensed gun owners in Minnesota, according to Andrew Rothman of the Minnesota Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance.

Since 2003, Minnesota has been what is called a "shall issue," state, which means that county law enforcement must issue a permit to carry a concealed weapon if the applicant meets certain standards. And, Rothman says, 13 years after this expansion of the right to carry, Minnesota police should know how to interact with legally armed citizens.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an organization that advocates for "smart" gun laws, the number of people who have permits to carry concealed handguns has "significantly expanded" over the past 30 years. Currently, all 50 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of concealed carry.

Bill Johnson, the Executive Director of the National Association of Police Organizations, an advocacy and education organization focused on advancing the interests of law enforcement officers, says that the presence of a gun other than the officer's in a police-civilian interaction "does ratchet up the stress of the situation."

Reynolds, who gave an emotional statement outside the Minnesota governor's mansion Thursday on Facebook Live, says that they were pulled over because of a broken taillight, which she says wasn't broken.

Reynolds said the officer asked to see Castile's license, and Castile reached into his back right pocket where he keeps his identification. She said Castile told the officer he was carrying a firearm, and Reynolds said she told the officer he was legally licensed to carry.

That's when, she said, the officer fired five shots into Castile's chest. She said the officer told them not to move: "How can you not move when they ask you for your license and registration?"

In a situation like what Reynolds describes, Johnson says that there are multiple ways for an officer to make sure he and the citizen he pulls over are safe once that person has disclosed that he has a firearm.

Diamond Reynolds Explains FB Video 01:26

"Most officers will say, I appreciate you letting me know: here's what we'll do," Johnson said. The officer can then, for example, ask the subject to step out of the car while he secures the firearm until the encounter is finished. He can also ask his partner to secure the firearm while the civilian keeps his or her hands in plain sight.

"It's legal to own guns, so it isn't enough to use deadly force against someone for possessing a firearm," says Johnson. "There has to be some sort of criminal use of it before police can take a law enforcement action."

What, if any, criminal use of a weapon Castile engaged in prior to being fatally shot will likely be part of the investigation into the shooting, which is being handled by Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. In the meantime, the case has sparked outrage across the nation.

"I want [Minnesota governor Mark Dayton] to allow these people who are licensed to carry to have more rights," Reynolds said. "If we are licensed to carry, then a police officer should not be able to gun a man down for no reason."

Harvey Hedden, a former Wisconsin police officer and chief and now the executive director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Organization, says that law enforcement has had to adapt to the trend of laws allowing concealed and open carry, and that car stops - like the one Castile was killed during - can be particularly difficult.

"Reaching for a wallet can look similar to reaching for a gun," said Hedden, who points out that about 15 percent of police officers killed in the line of duty are killed during traffic stops.

But, Hedden points out, learning how to interact in these situations takes training, and "the training budget is the first to get cut in any department."

Minnesota's Rothman calls what happened to Philando Castile "very, very unusual," partly because he believes that in the 13 years since Minnesota legalized concealed carry, police have learned that the people who go through the training and background check necessary to obtain the permit are "not a danger."

According to a statement from Saint Paul Public Schools, where Castile had been an employee since 2002, Castile was "a team player...quiet, respectful, and kind."

And although Castile's girlfriend says that she told police he had a permit to carry a gun, Rothman says that Minnesota law doesn't mandate a person tell an officer they have a weapon if they are licensed to carry one. In fact, Rothman says, when he trains people who have applied for concealed carry permits, he advises them not to disclose that they have a gun if the gun isn't in view: "Sometimes an officer can get panicked by the idea of a gun in the car."

Rothman says he has interacted with police three times while carrying, and each time he says he did disclose that he was carrying a firearm. He says the officer asked where the gun was, and then told him to "leave it there."

"They didn't ask to look at my [permit] card, and they even turned their back on me," said Rothman.

He continued: "I'm a middle aged white guy from the suburbs."

Asked whether he thought race may have played a role in the Castile shooting, Rothman said, "I think that it's a question we have to ask."

And on Thursday afternoon, Minnesota governor Mark Dyson was asked the same question. He responded: "Would this have happened if those drivers or passengers were white? I don't think it would've."

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