Top lawmen: 
Keep focus 
on mental ills

President Barack Obama’s call for improving ways to factor mental health into dealing with the threat of violence won nods of approval from western Colorado law enforcement officials.

Even though strong emotions dominate both sides, “keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill ought to be one area where common ground can be found,” Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper said on Friday.

Working out the details of such policy without infringing on the Second Amendment could be difficult, Camper acknowledged, but, “I think if we could formulate answers for that, both sides could agree on something for a change.”

Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey touched also on mental-health issues in an essay he posted on the department’s Facebook page.

“I am frustrated that the national conversation is focused more squarely on firearms than mental health issues,” Hilkey wrote, noting that the Mesa County Jail, like most in the nation, “has far too many people that cycle through with mental-health issues that are unaddressed, undiagnosed, or have fallen through the cracks.”

Making improvements to the nation’s behavioral-health system and information sharing among a variety of experts “is the most fertile ground for addressing the kind of mass violence that has sparked the national level of emotion currently seen,” Hilkey wrote.

Obama’s call for school resource officers, which seemed to mirror a call by the National Rifle Association for armed guards at schools, also got support from law enforcement.

The school-resource officer program in Garfield County is “a great thing,” and he welcomed the president’s interest, Sheriff Lou Vallario said.

Obama’s call for a ban on assault weapons and magazines containing more than seven cartridges, goes too far. Vallario said.

“I don’t support anything that would chisel away at the Second Amendment,” Vallario said.

Previous efforts to restrict assault weapons failed for lack of an ability to define what they were, Vallario noted.

And calls for more expansive background checks also miss the target, Vallario said.

“When gang-banger No. 1 wants to buy a gun from gang-banger No. 2, No. 2 isn’t going to get a background check,” Vallario said.

Hilkey stressed, as he has in previous public comments about guns and fears of federal overreach, that federal law enforcement officials share many of the concerns of other western Colorado residents.

“Frankly, those federal partners I work with have children in our schools, share these same concerns with the rest of us, and are no less patriotic than any of us,” Hilkey said.

At the same time though, Hilkey said he would “resist, appropriately, efforts by the federal government to manage my agency or unduly and unlawfully infringe upon the rights of our citizens.”

Obama’s suggestion that federal agencies play a role in developing response plans for emergencies such as school shootings struck him as out of step, Camper said.

“The FBI and (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) have never had roles in responding to school shootings,” Camper said.

When local law enforcement officials look for guidance, they won’t find it in Washington D.C., Camper said.

“We (local authorities) are the ones who developed that,” Camper said. “It wasn’t the feds.”


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