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Law enforcement officials in Washington County back some gun control proposals

Most are in favor of strengthened background checks and dealing with mental health issues

January 17, 2013|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com
  • Assault weapons are seen for sale at Capitol City Arms Supply Wednesday in Springfield, Ill. Most local law enforcement officials interviewed Thursday say they do not favor a ban on assault weapons.
Associated Press

Local law-enforcement officials Thursday did not agree on every point, but all supported some of the gun safety measures proposed by President Obama on Wednesday.

Smithsburg Police Chief George Knight Jr. and Hancock Police Chief  T.J. Buskirk supported the president’s proposal to limit the number of rounds in a magazine.

“From a law enforcement perspective, having a magazine that would hold 30 rounds poses police officers a greater sense of danger if we have to face them,” Knight said. “We ultimately could face somebody who could have more firepower than us.”

Washington County Sheriff Doug Mullendore said he does not believe a limit would make a difference.

“You can buy multiple clips,” he said. “If you’re limited to 10 rounds, if you buy 10 clips, you still have 100 rounds.”

But, said Buskirk, “If you do limit magazine capacity, they would at least have to reload ... We can go into a situation with a 20- or 30-round magazine and the bad guy does as well, so what advantage do we have?”

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Knight, Mullendore and Buskirk said the ideas of universal background checks and addressing mental health issues had their support.

“We deal with people who have mental illnesses that are not being appropriately dealt with,” Mullendore said. “They have to address the issue of mental health.”

Buskirk and Knight both said they supported databases tracking people who might be mentally ill.

“We have a database for an individual’s criminal history, so why not something looking into mental instability?” Buskirk said. “There also needs to be more programs out there for the mentally disabled.”

“I do believe within reason it (database) should be available to those who would approve or deny a weapon, but it should not be available to everyone,” Knight said. “I would also like to see the waiting period to purchase a gun extended to 30 days.”

Mark Holtzman, who will be sworn in as Hagerstown Police Chief Jan. 22, according to a news release from the City of Hagerstown on Thursday, did not want to comment on many of the issues regarding gun control legislation, but did express his support for criminal background checks and dealing with mental illnesses for gun safety.

“It makes sense to give the authorities the ability to quickly do a criminal background check,” he said. “The difficult thing will be to screen for mental health issues, and they would have to sort out what type of mental illnesses would disqualify somebody from purchasing a handgun.”

Holtzman also expressed support for the Maryland Gun Center, a program that allows law enforcement officers to call a firearms expert when arresting somebody for illegally purchasing firearms and figure out what charges should be leveled.

“It adds a level of expertise that not every police officer has when placing charges on somebody,” he said.

On Wednesday, Obama proposed requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales and issued a presidential memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.

The president also proposed a reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons that was in place until 2004.

Buskirk said he was “on the fence” on that issue, Mullendore and Knight said they opposed it.

“You can get guns almost anywhere,” Mullendore said. “If you look at these shootings, almost in every case, the shooting was pre-planned.”

Knight said such guns always will be available, even if they are made illegal.

“If there’s a ban, the only people who get them will be bad guys,” he said. “The president should not infringe on the Second Amendment.”

To cut down on illegal purchases, two of Obama’s executive orders were related to tracking weapons. He issued a presidential memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations and an order to release a report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and making it widely available to law enforcement.

Buskirk expressed support for cracking down on illegal gun sales.

“There needs to be stricter penalties on straw purchases and a way to track an assault rifle after it is purchased,” he said. “How are we going to stop this person from buying for this person over here?”

Buskirk said he also supports placing law enforcement officers in schools.

“Police officers on the scene that are trained is a good idea,” he said. “In Hancock we’ve always had a great working relationship with the schools, and we’re there a good bit either riding through the parking lot or stopping inside.”

To deal with safety in schools, Obama issued another executive order to provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.

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