Op-ed: Common-sense discussion needed about mass killings in America
by Larry Amerson, Special to The Star
Dec 17, 2012 | 3620 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Stuffed animals and a sign calling for prayer rest at the base of a tree near the Newtown VIllage Cemetery in Newtown, Conn. Photo: Charles Krupa/The Associated Press
Stuffed animals and a sign calling for prayer rest at the base of a tree near the Newtown VIllage Cemetery in Newtown, Conn. Photo: Charles Krupa/The Associated Press
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We have once again been confronted with the agony of mass killings and violent crime. Innocent babies murdered in cold blood. In the past few weeks, two deputies were gunned down in Baldwin County, children were killed in their home in Jefferson County, a gunman stalked the halls of a Birmingham hospital and wounded a law enforcement officer and other innocent bystanders before being killed, there was a shooting in Gadsden and a shooting over a verbal argument in Tuscaloosa.

Here in Calhoun County, a fleeing man was stopped only by his death. He was a convicted felon drug dealer with an assault rifle, how? We all know assault weapons are too easy to obtain. In Connecticut, elementary school children and teachers were murdered in school, a place that is supposed to be a haven of safety and security. Sadly, it wasn’t the first attack by an outsider at a school. Remember the Amish students in Pennsylvania who died in 2006, as well? We all can cite more of these.

As most of us ask why this happened and what can be done to stop the violence, a Texas congressman wishes the Connecticut principal had her own assault rifle at hand and apparently thinks that is the solution. Really? She carries it on a shoulder sling as she makes her rounds? We don’t live in Somalia with the warlords or Afghanistan with eternally warring tribes, nor should we live that way. This is America. We operate under the rule of law and we must demand there are some places of safety.

I am a gun owner. I enjoy shooting and hunting. I staunchly support the right of decent, ordinary people to own firearms and for them to be able to protect themselves from danger. It is absolutely true that guns don’t operate themselves, people commit these acts. It is also true that selling more guns or carrying yours in the mall in a tactical holster will not guarantee your personal security.

After 37 years in law enforcement, I know this. One must have a will to take a life, and many, many people do not have that will.

What has changed to bring these events about?

Today, there are already enough firearms in America for everyone to own several. Should we make training our elementary and high school teachers in close-quarter combat a degree requirement? Let’s have every nurse packing as they go from room to room tending their patients? Should your elderly mother or young daughter carry her pistol in a shoulder rig or choose a small-of-the-back holster for grocery trips or clothes shopping? What do they do when confronted by a group of gang-bangers openly packing their heat?

Law enforcement officers with extensive training are shot every week; even with body armor, far too many are dying. Most of the people proposing everyone to be armed have not experienced armed confrontations, made that split-second decision to shoot or don’t shoot, or dealt with the bloody aftermath. Despite what movies portray, the aftermath of a shooting is not everyone going out for beer and back to work the next day. It is a life-altering event with years of dealing with the legal and civil liability. You can be certain, if you survive, that someone associated with the other person will have a different opinion about your choice. Don’t forget the very pleasant media experience as they endlessly rehash and question your decisions. The Trayvon Martin case in Florida comes to mind. Whatever your opinion about the case, the new media only shows Martin as a 12-year-old.

There are other factors that must be addressed before it gets any better:

-- Extremely violent movies always with the rule-breaking antihero joking about killing people.

-- Wildly popular video games where the fun is the endless maiming and killing of human beings.

-- Music promoting killing, the abuse of women and endless attacks on our society.

-- Parents ignoring their children and not held accountable for their actions.

-- The endless fascination by our 24-hour-news culture with the people who commit these acts.

I propose that, like in a courtroom, the person responsible only be referred to as the defendant and the media focus on the victims instead. These changes can only come about if you and I decide to speak up and demand change. Don’t spend your money for and, most important, don’t allow your children to spend their money for these things.

To further complicate the issue in Alabama, without any discussion with sheriffs, our legislative leaders are proposing a bill that will require sheriffs to issue permits for everyone who is not absolutely forbidden by law to own a firearm. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? However, in our state, people who are mentally ill will not be prohibited from owning a firearm or obtaining a permit. There is no restriction on juveniles obtaining a permit or people convicted of drug offenses, no matter how many times.

To a person, sheriffs approve the vast majority of permit applications submitted. If the law passes as proposed, what about the suspect in Connecticut? Approval required in Alabama. The man in Baldwin County? Approval required. Someone with many arrests for assault, drugs and resisting arrest? Approval required. Someone with pending charges for serious crimes? Approval required.

There is no restriction on carrying a rifle or shotgun anywhere. We already have a workable system with true accountability on handguns, but for some reason the state Legislature intends to change it. Who is being negatively affected by the current law?

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on the 2nd Amendment and reasonable restrictions are still authorized, despite what some say. The rush to allow anyone and everyone to carry any guns openly with no restrictions is not a solution and will lead to greater problems and more of the above. Some people claim we need to return to the Old West. If so, why did the lawmen then finally restrict when and where firearms were carried? Decent people didn’t want to have gun fights. Neither prohibition nor zero restrictions are a workable solution. Like most issues, the best answer is somewhere in the middle.

We need to immediately deal with the issue of access to weapons by the mentally ill and those who are a danger to others or themselves before more mass killings occur by someone in that group. Calhoun County has the mental health officer legislation that gives us some tools that help. It is past time for someone in our state and nation’s leadership to start a discussion with a foundation of common sense. We elect our leaders to make decisions by working together, and for that to happen, there must be reasonable discussion. The silent majority must speak.

Larry Amerson, the sheriff of Calhoun County, is the president of the National Sheriff's Association.

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