Law officers: More gun control not answer
While expressing heartbreak for the victims of recent incidents of gun violence, the Yuma-area's top law enforcement officials agree that the answer is not in limiting access by law-abiding citizens to the means to defend themselves and their families.
“As our nation struggles to find answers to the problems that lead a very few among us to commit these senseless criminal acts, I am gravely concerned that some would further victimize law-abiding citizens through misguided and uninformed decisions intended to prevent future acts of violence,” said Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot.
Rather than focus on gun control, he said, the government should be paying more attention to the underlying issues that lead people to commit such violent acts.
“I've been an advocate of that for years. I am a strong proponent of investigating the underlying causes of these recent tragedies and working together to address those shortcomings with real solutions.”
In most if not all cases, these acts of violence are committed either by career criminals or those who are suffering from mental health issues, Wilmot said.
“We shouldn't be blaming an inanimate object. A firearm is a tool and as such is incapable of independent action. The manner in which that tool is used is entirely dependent on the individual who wields it.”
He also noted that he has yet to find any criminal act committed with a gun that is not already sufficiently outlawed by existing laws.
Yuma Police Chief John Lekan agreed. “I think we have bigger issues than just weapons.”
He said he would like to see the corrections and judicial systems pay more attention to rehabilitation of criminals.
He also firmly believes this country needs to reform its mental health system. “There just isn't funding and resources for follow-up, and suddenly we have a tragedy. ”
Wilmot estimated that out of 500 inmates jailed in Yuma County, 100 are undergoing mental health treatment while in custody. “And that's just here locally.”
But once they're released, there is no continuity of care for them so they self-medicate with alcohol or illicit drugs, he said.
“If the federal government does anything, it should be concentrating on that issue. It should be working with law enforcement to address the issues we deal with.”
Both the sheriff and police chief expressed concern that tighter gun control would damage the trust that law enforcement agencies have worked to foster among the general public.
They both noted that in their oaths of office, they have sworn to uphold the laws of the state of Arizona and the nation, including the Second Amendment, which grants citizens the right to bear arms and defend themselves and their families.
“The main thing we do in law enforcement is try to build relationships with citizens,” Wilmot said. “If (governments) do what they're proposing ... it puts us in the middle and that's not a good situation.”
If assault weapons are banned, as proposed, it likely would fall to law enforcement to be the regulators, Lekan noted.
“If we're put in the position of regulating, denying and maybe taking away weapons from law-abiding citizens, that will erode the public's trust of law enforcement.”
However, he does support increased background checks of those purchasing guns. “Make it a little more regulated but not so difficult that law-abiding citizens can't get one.”
Lekan offered some ideas to make schools safer.
He would like to see school counselors receive more training to recognize a person in crisis and getting them help. He also advocates giving some thought to how to design and build schools so they're safer, with input from first responders and security specialists. And he would like to see more funding for placing police officers or trained security guards in schools.
What Lekan would not like to see is requiring that teachers and administrators be armed. “That's a lot to put on them. It should either be police officers or someone trained in guns, security and self-defense.”
He noted that Yuma Police Department has security resource officers assigned to several schools in the city, often through funding from the schools.
“What we have is really important. Expanding it would be great.”