It's Florida Sheriff Grady Judd's duty to protect the citizens of Polk County -- but he figures it's their job, too.
One of a growing number of rural and big-city law enforcement officials who openly encourages responsible gun ownership, Judd believes guns allow citizens to defend themselves when police cannot.
“If you are foolish enough to break into someone’s home, you can expect to be shot in Polk County,” Judd said in a statement after a homeowner shot a would-be home invader earlier this month. “It’s more important to have a gun in your hand than a cop on the phone."
Such full-throated embrace of the Second Amendment as a crime-fighting tool isn't confined to red states like Florida.
“I want as many law-abiding citizens to arm themselves in this county as we can get."
- Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke
One California police chief is backing teachers in his district packing heat. Detroit Police Chief James Craig has been a leader in urging his community to arm itself. A Maryland sheriff is working with the state’s general assembly to try to make it easier for citizens to obtain handgun permits.
In the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s most recent ranking of states with the strongest gun laws, California (1), Maryland (4) and Michigan (15) ranked near the top of the pack.
Some gun rights advocates say terror attacks at home and abroad have contributed to a change in attitudes about gun ownership among community members and authorities, even in locales historically hostile towards the Second Amendment.
“That has helped play into it, and there’s no doubt the active shooter scenario has, too,” said Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation. “You’re seeing people say, ‘How do you respond?’”
The answer varies based on where you live, and how your law enforcement leaders are selected.
Police chiefs are typically appointed by mayors, and their politics tend to line up with whoever chose them. Sheriffs, in contrast, are voted into office and in some cases espouse values of a constituency that is growing ever-more pro-gun.
“Historically, sheriffs have been very pro-gun rights,” Gottlieb told FoxNews.com. “But they’ve stepped out of the box and they’re now publicly making it known that firearms are good for self-defense.”
In Oklahoma, Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes and Creek County Sheriff John Davis have each recently reduced costs associated with getting a gun license. Davis is also keeping administrative offices open longer on weekends to allow more people to apply.
“As a result of the ever-increasing violence being committed upon the American citizen and the current state of our country, I encourage each citizen of Creek County who is legally able to fully utilize their Second Amendment right ‘to keep and bear arms,’ as legally prescribed by the Oklahoma Defense Act,” Davis said in a statement.
Rhodes said his plan made simple fiscal sense.
“The benefits of people getting their license, carrying lawfully, certainly outweigh the money I would lose,” he told KFOR.
In Florida, several sheriffs are playing the role of pitchman for an armed populace.
Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey has told citizens they must be “that first line of defense,” according to Florida Today. Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair told the Tampa Tribune, “If you are certified to carry a gun, I would like to encourage you to do so.”
In Wisconsin, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is one of the more visible pro-gun faces.
“I want as many law-abiding citizens to arm themselves in this county as we can get so that I have the partner that I need to beat back this sort of violence,” Clarke said during an interview on “Hannity” last week.
The attitude of sheriffs like Clarke and Judd is, at least in-part, a response to the attitudes of the people they serve.
“There’s no doubt at this point it’s consumer-driven to a large extent,” Gottlieb said. “Because they’re elected, they have to make their constituents happy. We’ve seen a record number of firearms sold. And people come in to get permits to carry, and you want to be customer-service friendly, and you want to make it easier – or you might not get re-elected.”
The number of concealed handgun permits soared from 4.6 million in 2007 to 12.8 million in 2015, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center. Those numbers match an evolution in the general public’s attitude toward guns. Just 35 percent of respondents in an August 2000 Gallup poll said they felt safer with a gun in the house. That rose to 42 percent in 2004, 47 percent in 2006 and 63 percent in 2014.
“There is momentum in the country for expanding the right to carry,” New York University Law Professor James Jacobs told FoxNews.com. “But the people who are leading the charge on gun control, they say momentum is changing in their direction. There seems to be a real disconnect here in terms of peoples’ perceptions of what the trends are.”
That uncertainty of the public’s attitude could be the reason for the mixed messages emanating from some police chiefs in big cities.
Washington D.C. Chief of Police Cathy Lanier made a seemingly pro-Second Amendment statement when she was interviewed by “60 Minutes” in November on the topic of what citizens can do during mass shootings.
“If you’re in a position to try and take the gunman down, to take the gunman out, it’s the best option for saving lives before police can get there,” she said.
Still, at the time of the interview Lanier had approved just 48 concealed carry licenses during a year’s span and had rejected about 80 percent of all applicants.
But Fordham law professor Nicholas Johnson views Lanier’s changing rhetoric as potentially significant.
“This is a policy question that has lots of other players involved,” Johnson told FoxNews.com. “You would suspect that what police chiefs say has to some degree been vetted by their political superiors.
"I don’t think this is a signal of an immediate sea change among big city politicos," Johnson added, "but I think it’s promising in terms of the recognition of the realities people are now coming to terms with.”