Area reaction to Obama gun proposals mixed on more officers in schools
President Barack Obama’s call on Congress to enact an assault-rifle ban and limit the size of ammunition magazines was accompanied by 23 executive actions, as well as a call for police officers in schools and a “national dialogue” about mental health.
Obama also called for the development of “model emergency plans” for schools, churches and universities.
The call for discussion about mental health is long overdue, Sharon Raggio, executive director of Glenwood Springs-based Colorado West Mental Health, said.
“One of the things that we know is that treatment works” to deal with mental illness, Raggio said, but that stigmas must be overcome.
While Obama’s call for incentives for the hiring of school-resource officers seemed to echo the National Rifle Association’s call for armed guards, the NRA took a cautious approach, saying that the organization “will continue to focus on keeping our children safe and securing our schools.”
State Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, an advocate of preparing students and teachers for disasters and a frequent critic of Obama’s policies, said he opposed the use of executive actions to go around Congress, even if some of them might look attractive.
“With this administration, the devil is in the details and I am not one of those that adheres to the premise that ‘We should implement the policies to find out what’s in them,’” King wrote in an email. “I passionately oppose this administration’s assault on the Bill of Rights by fiat.”
Tim Leon, safety and transportation director for School District 51, said he welcomed federal interest in school safety, but noted that already much is being done. He and law enforcement officials determine what things worked and what didn’t after events such as the recent shootings as they try to find the best practices and evaluate existing procedures, Leon said.
Grand Valley resident Linn Armstrong, a Second Amendment supporter and firearms-safety instructor, said he was unimpressed with the idea of armed officers at schools, noting with sarcasm that “The TSA is such a model of efficiency.”
Armstrong is an advocate of having armed parents and willing teachers and said he questioned whether a national approach to school safety measures would be effective and take into account local differences.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said he planned to review Obama’s proposals. but said he was concerned that “a slew of executive orders” could infringe on the Second Amendment and overstep the bounds of executive authority.
“Proper enforcement” of firearms sales and background checks are important, Tipton said, as are policies to “ensure that those who suffer from mental illness receive proper care and are never in a position to commit violent acts.”
Both of Colorado’s senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, have said they would support bans on weapons designed for the battlefield and limitations on magazine capacities.
Bennet last week questioned whether armed guards in schools would be appropriate.
Both senators also noted the need for additional emphasis on the mental-health aspects of violent outbursts.
Mental health issues are ripe for study, Dr. Robert Sammons, a Grand Junction psychiatrist whose practice includes forensic psychiatry, said.
“The real problem isn’t mental-health treatment,” Sammons said. “The problem is mental-health law.”
Current law falls short in even the most extreme cases, Sammons said.
“If you brought those kids to me, the Columbine kids, those mass murderers, and he says, ‘I feel like killing people,’ but he doesn’t say anyone specifically, my hands are tied,” Sammons said.
Current law needs to be changed to give psychiatrists greater ability to respond to suggestions that a patient is prone to violent outbursts, such as appear to be the cases with suspect in the Aurora shootings, James Holmes.
One common thread in recent violent outbursts is isolation of the shooter, Raggio said, noting that people can be trained to recognize and deal with symptoms of mental illness.