By Kelsey Givens
Sheriffs in all of the Silver State’s 17 counties released a letter to constituents this week explaining where they stand on the issue of gun control.
The sheriffs expressed in the letter they feel the best way to address gun violence is not necessarily by limiting magazine capacities or types of guns for purchase, but rather by addressing issues behind violence, such as mental illness, gangs and drugs.
The state’s sheriffs decided to meet early last week during a regularly scheduled meeting of the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association to talk in-depth about the issue.
“When sheriffs are asked, they’ll give their individual opinion, but we thought it was better to come together as a group and present a letter to our constituents as the 17 sheriffs of the State of Nevada,” Sheriff Tony DeMeo said. “Unlike the legislators we are the first responders to violence, we see it first-hand. I told the rest of the sheriffs we’re the first response to violence, we investigate violence, we know the root cause of the problem in our communities.”
Based on what was discussed during that meeting, the sheriffs came to a joint conclusion that the most effective way to prevent future gun-related tragedies, such as those at Sandy Hook Elementary School or the movie theater shooting spree in Aurora, Colo. last summer, is to address the issues that led the shooters in those incidents to commit such violent acts.
“In recent months, tragic events have occurred causing much discussion pertaining to firearms issues and the Second Amendment,” the letter reads. “While firearms will certainly be discussed as part of any conversation dealing with these events, other issues such as mental health, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act HIPAA , illegal use of controlled substances, and criminal gang violence must be included as integral parts of these conversations.”
The letter goes on to state that one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed is the fact that many of those deemed to be mentally ill, using controlled substances or involved in gang-related violence, have not been entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — one of the first steps in keeping weapons out of the hands of those who may misuse them.
“This issue must be addressed at both the national, state and local levels. HIPAA must be amended to allow or even mandate reporting of the mentally ill by certain health care providers. Courts must ensure the entry of persons who have been adjudicated mentally ill or convicted of disqualifying crimes. Persons who have been validated as criminal gang members should be prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms. Local jurisdictions must make NlCS entry a top priority. Information systems must be utilized to their utmost potential,” the letter states.
DeMeo said getting help for those afflicted by mental illness and helping law enforcement agencies and gun dealers keep weapons out of the hands of those who may use them for ill will be a huge first step in preventing further gun-related violence.
“Guns are a tool people use, but the root cause of the issue is the violence,” DeMeo said. “How many times have you heard, ‘oh we have to do something about this because of a recent mass killing.’ And nothing is done. Finally there seems to be a national census that enough is enough. Well, let’s get it done right, instead of putting out these legislative pieces limiting the number of rounds in a magazine or telling people you can’t have this type of weapon. Because when people commit these offenses they have more than one weapon …But the fact of the matter is we want to address the violence issue. Making sure that people with mental health issues are identified, making sure that they get the help they need but also for law enforcement that they are prevented from going out and purchasing guns. At Virginia Tech, if his mental health status was able to be in a database, he never would have been able to buy those weapons.”
Although the Nevada sheriffs support reporting mentally ill patients and preventing certain people from purchasing firearms, the group did state in its letter the solution to the problem is not in removing or preventing law-abiding citizens from owning guns, but rather educating the public and addressing the issues that lead up to gun-related violence.
“The sheriffs of the State of Nevada do not believe that the answer to this issue includes making criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens. As the old saying goes, ‘When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.’ The answer lies within a myriad of approaches including education, addressing violence, keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill, criminal gang members, and illegal controlled substance users, as well as prosecuting and incarcerating those who use firearms to commit crimes,” the letter states.
By expressing their collective opinion on the subject, DeMeo said the group hopes it makes the voice of state law enforcement stronger when the letter is sent to state legislators, those representing the state in D.C. and even Vice President Joe Biden, as lawmakers consider how best to approach this topic.
“The Second Amendment is important to us, and we as sheriffs will uphold all that it stands for. We will work within the law and not succumb to perceived threats, rumor, false, or malicious information to weigh our decision making process,” the letter concludes. “We as Nevada sheriffs support The Right to Bear Arms, and we will do all within our power to uphold and defend its principles.”