Law enforcement supports variety of gun control reform efforts
Thursday, February 22, 2018
In response to the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, President Donald Trump has announced his support for a series of gun control efforts, including a ban on bump stocks, raising the legal age of owning a gun to 21 and an expanded background check system. This announcement accompanies growing calls by the law enforcement community to reduce gun violence, and there are many ideas on the table as we move forward.
I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health. Raise age to 21 and end sale of Bump Stocks! Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue - I hope!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2018
In a statement released the day after the Parkland shooting, International Association of Chiefs of Police President Louis M. Dekmar announced support for a series of gun control issues.
"Law enforcement leaders, community members, policymakers, advocacy groups and others must come together to have a thoughtful discussion on a path forward," Dekmar said. "The first step is having a critical policy dialogue on steps we can take, together, to minimize the devastation caused by gun violence — focused on expanded background checks, closing the gun show loophole, limiting access to silencers/suppressors and putting measures in place that prevent persons affected by mental illness from acquiring firearms."
Let's begin with bump stocks. These are devices that replace rifles' standard stocks and essentially change semiautomatic weapons into machine guns. In the Las Vegas massacre that killed 58 people, 12 of the shooter's 23 guns used bump stocks, bringing the issue into the national spotlight in October.
After the Las Vegas shooting, the NRA announced that the devices should be subject to further regulations and stated that it will comment after it sees Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ proposed regulations.
At a CNN Town Hall Meeting on gun control on Feb. 22, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel passionately supported the bump start ban: "We do need to have some gun control reform ... bump stocks [and automatic rifles] should be outlawed forever."
He also defended improved mental health background checks. Israel wants lawmakers to grant expanded police training and power to strip citizens of their firearms and have them involuntarily committed under the Baker Act if they pose a threat to themselves or others.
At the Town Hall meeting, Israel stated that an individual's "computer, the bedroom, the pictures, the photographs and speaking to their friends" can all be evidence for the police to deem the person mentally ill. "We need the power to take every firearm away from them and bring them to a mental health facility."
Israel's ideas echoed those discussed in the Florida Sheriffs Association workshop on public safety in the school system held Feb. 20. This workshop was attended by the Florida Police Chiefs Association, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Florida Department of Corrections and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Increased school resource officer funding, changing the emergency drill system (which hasn't been revamped since 1958), improving mental health background checks and implementing other ways to keep guns out of mentally ill people's hands were high priorities at the workshop.
Mike Adkinson, Walton County Sheriff and president of the Florida Sheriff's Association, advocated changing the Baker Act. Under current Florida law, law enforcement must return guns to people 24 hours after they have been released from the hospital.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Florida residents can still legally purchase semiautomatic weapons even if they were be involuntarily committed "15 times within the last month." He also emphasized the limits of the state's background check system.
At the CNN Town Hall meeting, Israel and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch agreed the background check system needs improvement. But they sparred over the details. One major improvement would have states reporting mental health records to a national database. Currently, only 12 states are doing this.
The issue here is that people's medical information is protected under the HIPPA privacy rule. However, it's been noted that mental health records can be added to a background check database without violating a federal law.
The Florida Sheriff's Association acknowledged mistakes made by other entities named in the Parkland shooting. The FBI received calls about the shooter, Nicolas Cruz. The Department of Children and Families declared Cruz a "low threat" after an investigation in late 2016. Local police received at least 20 calls about Cruz.
What this implies is that multiple entities need better training, resources and funding to detect and handle cases like Cruz's before it’s too late.
Gun control is divisive, but change is in the air. Whether enough consensus can be achieved enough to change policy — and find the funding to do so — are now the main obstacles in the struggle against senseless school massacres.
Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students have an amazing resource to achieve their goals: their GoFundMe site has raised $3.7 million in three days. They don't seem to be going away, and neither are the first responders whose responsibility it is to protect these students.
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