While Wapakoneta Police Chief Russ Hunlock understands the political motivations behind President Barack Obama’s proposed executive orders to deal with guns, he says the issue really comes down to awareness and responsibility.
On Wednesday, Obama unveiled a set of proposals and executive orders aimed at tackling the issue of gun control. Among the proposals were a call to institute a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, more comprehensive background checks — including during private transactions — and funding for schools to hire armed security.
“I don’t know if gun control is the answer,” Hunlock said. “I think it all gets back to the people’s upbringing and if they are responsible around guns — if this was reinforced, if this was stressed and if education was pushed then it would do more than gun control laws.”
There have been at least 62 mass shootings throughout the country in the past 30 years, with the killings occurring in 30 states. Twenty-five of these mass shootings have taken place since 2006, with seven in 2012 alone.
Hunlock discussed the mass shootings and noted Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who were responsible for killing 15 at the Columbine High School shooting, Seung Hui-Cho, who killed 33 at Virginia Tech and Adam Lanza, who killed 28 in Newtown, Conn. obtained their guns legally or from a parent.
“Statistically, in these mass shootings and killings, the weapon or weapons are
typically obtained through legal means or are taken from the household in which they live — I don’t know if stricter gun control laws would have stopped them,” said Hunlock, noting President Clinton signed an assault weapons ban in 1994 and the Columbine High School shooting and others took place during the ban. “The No. 1 priority is I think we need to educate people on the handling and storage of guns. We need to emphasize safety, taking the time to lock the gun in a safe and the time to disable the gun with a gun lock.”
Records show of the 62 mass shootings, 49 killers obtained the guns legally. Of the 142 guns possessed by the killers, 68 were semiautomatic handguns, 20 were revolvers and 19 were shotguns. Thirty-five of the guns were assault weapons, according to the website Mother Jones.
Hunlock stressed gun owners having safes for the guns and gun locks, too, to keep someone from being able to use them. The Wapakoneta Police Department used to provide free gun locks,
and the police chief said he plans to investigate obtaining more to pass out in the future.
The police chief also stressed the need for the public to be educated on the type of people who typically commit these crimes and the similarities between the killers.
“I think if people are educated and made more aware of the indicators exhibited by these killers than we can hopefully reduce and eliminate these events and help these people get the help they need,” Hunlock said. “Awareness can be a valuable tool in identifying the people most at risk.”
A study of the 62 mass shootings reveals 44 of the killers were white males and only one was a woman. The average age was 35.
Thirty-eight of them exhibited signs of mental illness or displayed signs of mental illness before they went on their shooting rampages.
As Hunlock and School Resource Officer Jeff Eisert look at the statistics involving mass
shootings, the perpetrator either talked, wrote or chatted online about events of mass death and being there.
Hunlock said he does not object to background checks of the person purchasing a gun to identify if the person has exhibited criminal or mental reasons which should exclude him from owning a gun.
With gun ownership protected by the Bill of Rights, Hunlock said gun control laws would be hard to enforce without trampling on a person’s right to own and to use a gun.
Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon said while he believes there are good intentions behind the measures, there are some weaknesses behind the proposals.
“I think what we need to remember is that it’s not the gun, it’s the people carrying the gun,” Solomon said. “You have to be careful to not take the rights away from law abiding citizens.”
Solomon also called into question the proposed assault weapons ban.
“If someone has intentions of harming someone, they will find a way to accomplish it,” Solomon said. “It just falls back to what I have told people — that bad guys are going to get the guns. In some way the laws will stop it but it won’t always prevent it. Citizens should have the right to bear arms. I understand the need, but I still think we need to be careful in taking away the rights of the law abiding citizens.”
St. Marys Police Chief Greg Foxhoven questioned some of Obama’s proposals.
“The only thing that I would really agree with is the funding that they are going to make available to put armed security in schools,” Foxhoven said. “However, with that said, I also understand our financial situation is not good in this country, and if we are going to provide that money, where are we going to cut from. If you are going to go into debt, I guess this would be a good reason to do it.”
A ban on assault weapons lapsed in 2004. While gun control advocates say the ban would curb gun violence, Foxhoven noted criminals would still be able to get their hands on the weapons even if a ban is in place.
“The Columbine shooting occurred during that ban,” Foxhoven said. “I think a straight ban misses the mark. I am never in favor of government stepping in to try to push their interpretation of our rights.”
The revamped background checks also could pose some hurdles.
“I think it’s a massive undertaking,” Foxhoven said. “They don’t lay out how it will happen — these are suggestions without a lot of great detail about how they will be carried out. I know some thought about getting local police departments involved in those private transactions, and I don’t believe we have any business being involved in those. I am curious about how they plan to do that. I think, in general, background checks are good but there is a fine line.”
Foxhoven noted there is a fine line between keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals and punishing the law abiding citizens of the nation.
“Gun control only affects the law abiding citizens, it really does,” Foxhoven said. “The bad guys are already going to have access to these weapons. Every law abiding citizen can have a magazine with a 10-round capability, but the bad guys are going to keep their high capacity magazines and use them for bad things. So gun control really only affects the ones who are going to follow the law. The criminals are not going to do that.”
The Evening Leader Managing Editor Mike Burkholder contributed to this story.