Mall of America Deploying Gun-Sniffing Dogs

AP Photo/Jim Mone, File

Using dogs to look for contraband is nothing new. From local police all the way up to the feds, law enforcement uses dogs to look for things that aren't where they're supposed to be. Explosives and drugs are the big things, and for good reason. Those are all illegal and heavily restricted. If they're where the dogs are, someone is breaking the law.


Well, I suppose it was just a matter of time, really, before we started seeing gun-sniffing dogs in places that are supposedly gun-free zones.

And that time has apparently come.

A new security measure is now in place at the Mall of America.

When the mall started using K-9s as part of its security more than 20 years ago, the emphasis was on sniffing out explosives. But now, the dogs are training to sniff out guns that someone might be carrying through the mall. 

K-9 Ellie spent months training on the scent that each part of a firearm gives off. When she spots one, she lets her trainer, Lt. Kenny McDonough, know right away. 

The concept — to track a gun that's on a moving person — is relatively new, especially in a building as large as the mall. When training the eight new K-9s who have joined the security team, the instructions break down a typical handgun into two pieces and teach the dogs to find that single component. 

"Firearm detection is a relatively new concept in the K-9 world, so we kind of heard about it here and there. We really started to explore it last year in earnest and kind of went full throttle from there," explained Vice President of Mall Security Will Bernhjelm.

It's a relatively new concept and one that I have a lot of questions about. For example, how can you determine who is and isn't carrying a gun lawfully? I understand that guns are prohibited at the Mall of America, but typically, that doesn't apply to off-duty law enforcement officers.

Can the dogs differentiate between those? Probably not.

I also question whether the dogs will give a false positive on someone who has been around guns earlier. For example, a range day is likely to leave a smell on a person that a dog will pick up that we might not. Is that enough to cause a problem?


The truth of the matter, though, is that the Mall of America is taking this step because their gun ban policy didn't work worth a damn. They had a number of shootings at the mall last year--something no mall would want, especially in the era of malls dying all across the nation--despite the ban.

Bans only work on those inclined to follow the rules, and while these dogs might well be out in force, I'm skeptical that they'll accomplish much of anything. The dogs have to be in the right place at the right time. Those carrying illicitly will likely avoid all dogs just to make sure they're not caught, right up until they decide to shoot someone.

The truth is that if they want to keep the mall safe, allowing law-abiding citizens to carry firearms is the only way that's going to happen. At least then, would-be shooters have to consider the possibility that an armed citizen will put them down.

Unfortunately, I doubt the mall has any interest in doing that.

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