BY MIKE RYAN
As a Mayor of a town with 90,000 residents, thousands of businesses, 11 public schools, and millions of visitors a year, I have a very keen interest in preventing gun violence where possible. As a former PTA president and father of two in our Broward County Public Schools, I have a very personal interest in protecting our children and schools.
Sunrise is also home to the only public recreational shooting range in Broward County. We welcome, and have enjoyed a positive relationship with, responsible gun owners – those who are interested in recreational and competitive shooting are friends, neighbors, visitors and residents.
Last Friday, Sheriff Scott Israel hosted a Roundtable convened by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz regarding gun violence. Attending were predominantly law enforcement chiefs, but also School Boards of Miami Dade County and Broward, a judge handling mental health issues, a prosecutor handling exclusively gang violence and gun crimes, a former ATF agent, a current FDLE agent, and the Mayors of Miami-Dade County and Broward County.
In talking to responsible gun owners, law enforcement and residents, there is an evolving consensus: We must take whatever reasonable steps we can to prevent guns being placed in the hands of the irresponsible, derangedand criminals.
This is not simply a reaction to a single event or a series of sensational events. In America, each day, there are 33 murders committed with guns.
There is no single solution. That does not mean we should do nothing. We should have:
- School Resource Officers to play an important role in protecting our children and teachers – not as armed guards, but as part of the community-policing model meant to understand the dynamics of students and families and how they interact in and out of our schools. In addition to deterrence, they help address problems of drugs, gangs, and issues facing our neighborhoods and at-risk youth. In Sunrise, SROs have been or are active members of SWAT, Field Force, Hostage Negotiators and other specialized units – while still being able to open the milk carton for a frustrated 1stgrader or help a parent navigate the car loop.
- Universal background checks on ALL sales, with meaningful enforcement and real penalties for violators.
- Background checks that are meaningful.
- Full prosecution of anyone breaking existing laws.
- Severely increase penalties for crimes committed with guns.
- Ways to address the mentally ill and those with mental health issues. Now someone committed involuntarily for 72 hours under the “Baker Act” (as a danger to themselves or others) will have their guns returned to them by the police automatically and immediately upon discharge after 72 hours AND their commitment is never entered into a background check database. As a result, there is also no impediment or second thought given to someone being released and purchasing a gun.
- Penalties for the possession of a firearm obtained without a background check. If you shouldn’t have the gun, responsible gun owners say throw away the key. How we get there is part of the discussion.
Roughly 6.6 million guns-a-year are transferred without background checks, many through the internet. Right now, private sellers exclusively decide whether or not they should seek a background check. That is unworkable and an illogical step to curb the flow of guns into the hands of the irresponsible, deranged and criminals.
A March shooting rampage in New Mexico occurred after someone who would never have been able to pass a background check purchased guns privately, through an ad in the paper. The seller later admitted how badly he felt. The same scenario happened in a Wisconsin mass shooting last year involving an act of domestic violence. How many other times a day does this happen?
We must make sure databases are populated with the right information on domestic violence history, convictions, mental health issues AND the state databases are linked to federal databases.
Databases do prevent “bad guys” from getting guns. In 2009, over 150,000 were prohibited from purchasing. Since 1999, 1.7 million have been prohibited from buying guns from federally licensed dealers.
But, gaps have let felons, those with domestic violence convictions and restraining orders and the mentally ill to actually obtain guns and permits to carry a concealed firearm.
At Virginia Tech, the mass shooting was committed by someone who passed a background check even though a judge had found him mentally ill and ordered he not be permitted to purchase or possess a gun. The information was never linked to the necessary databases. How many times a day does this happen?
All this means increased resources for enforcement and prosecutions, as well as a change in law to make the penalties severe enough that criminals, unscrupulous dealers, law enforcement and federal prosecutors take this seriously.
The raging national debate over “bans” and restrictions on the character of guns and magazines are more difficult. Licensed dealers and law enforcement tell me since the Sandy Hook mass shooting, you cannot even find certain “military style” weapons to purchase…or the prices have skyrocketed.
It is true so many of the murders committed each day involve weapons not even contemplated by any proposed “ban” or not involving high capacity magazines. So, some solutions should be implemented without even tackling the thorny issues presented.
However, many in law enforcement said limiting high capacity magazines would make a difference over time regarding dangers they face and in many of these shootings. Mark Kelly emphasized this point last week in an interview; his wife Gabrielle Giffords was shot when the killer was stopped as he attempted to reload after emptying 30 rounds from a magazine. Sure, they can just reload. But, for the untrained particularly, reloading is a point where intervention can occur or where mechanical failure can impede. Some question why any civilian needs 30 round or more capacity.
We must take the steps we all agree will make a difference. Doing nothing is not an option. Becoming paralyzed by politics will cost lives.
Mike Ryan, the mayor of Sunrise, is also Chair of the Broward League of Cities Public Safety Committee and the Co-Chair of the Joint SRO Taskforce of the Broward League of Cities.