November 1, 2014

Law officers tell Congressman mental health issues more important than gun ban

Law officers who participated in a forum with Iowa Congressman Dave Loebsack Wednesday, were in agreement that addressing mental health concerns would be more effective than seeking to ban firearms when it comes to gun violence. The forum came in the wake of President Obama’s announcement of proposals to curb gun violence. Appanoose County Sheriff, Gary Anderson, says his department runs up against several mental health issues when it comes to issuing gun permits.

“We have a difficult time having a records or background check on someone who may come in from a different state — Missouri for example since we border Missouri — be able to identify if that person has any mental health issues,” Anderson says. Anderson says they are also restricted in handling people being treated for mental illness.

“If the psychiatrist or physiologist indicates that as long as that person is taking their medication they are stable, however if they get off their medication…they could become homicidal or suicidal, that is not a disqualifier if they have not previously indicated any harm to someone or themselves with a weapon,” he explains.

Anderson says they can deny a weapons permit to someone who has been convicted of domestic assault, but that denial has to be in the sentencing guidelines given by the judge for them to carry it out. Muscatine County Sheriff Dave White is skeptical that a ban on assault rifles or large magazines of ammunition would solve the problem. He recently visited a gun show where the items were sold.

“Most of the AR-15 style weapons doubled in price, they are selling in the 1,500 to 2,000 dollar range now. The high-capacity magazines that were selling for 14 dollars are now selling for 40 dollars,” White says. “And I don’t believe that anybody that was there to purchase those items is buying them with the intent that if the administration bans possession of any assault weapons or high capacity magazines, that they are ever going to turn them in.”

White says banning guns wouldn’t keep them from the people who are going to use them for the wrong purpose. “We’re just spinning our wheels, people are going to get guns. I mean, drugs have been illegal for years and people are still getting those. Murder is illegal and that doesn’t seem to stop folks from going out and constantly killing people”

White says more could be done with the enforcement of the laws that are already on the books. “We see all the time where convicted felons that we arrest are given suspended sentences,” White says. “These are absolutely the people that we do not want carrying weapons, and yet when we catch them with a weapon, basically there’s nothing don to change that behavior. There’s no fear of going back to prison or anything else because they are actually going to get a suspended sentence until they actually use the weapon in a crime, and then it’s just a little too late.”

Davis County Sheriff Dave Davis echoed some of the earlier concerns about getting information in doing background checks. “We are not receiving the information that would be needed for us to do a proper background check on the mental status of individuals. It’s kind of hard for us to know if somebody moves in here from the state of Florida if they’ve been under a doctor’s care for mental issues in the past, and that’s a huge concern of mine,” Davis says.

Ottumwa Chief of Police Jim Clark says even when they identify mental health issues, then they face more obstacles. “We have a lot of mentally ill people who become criminally insane people. If we could get the mentally ill people treatment — that seems to be our issue here — we identify some that are mentally ill, they need treatment, but we can’t access the system,” Clark says, “there doesn’t seem to be enough psychiatrists out here in rural Iowa.”

Loebsack responded that “there aren’t enough psychiatrists period.” Dewitt Police Chief Dave Porter agreed that the lack of mental health services is an issue. “I think banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines is strictly a feel good measure, it’s not going to accomplish anything. If I wanted to do something, I could have three 10-round magazines instead of one 30-round magazines and still fire off just about the same amount in the same amount of time,” Porter says.

He pointed out that the Oklahoma City bomber killed people without guns and many people were killed when a man set fire to a nightclub in New York. Clinton Chief of Police Brian Guy says there are no drop-in clinics to take people who are mentally ill who pose a danger to the public.

“Even under an emergency committal basis, right now we are putting the cart before the horse. We will call to find out whether or not there is bed space available before an order is issued,” according to Guy. “And that’s certainly no way to provide a this critical service to the customers if you will, of the state.”

Loebsack, a Democrat from Iowa City, says he has not had time to read over all the president’s proposals on gun control yet and could not make any comments on them. Loebsack says this is the first in a series of meetings he will hold to gather input on gun control legislation and safety.