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gun debate should focus on prevention


The following opinion piece by Sheriff Palmer appeared in the January 31st editions of the Mountain Mail and Chaffee County Times newspapers.


El Paso County commissioners recently passed a resolution pledging to oppose any efforts to enforce laws that, in their view, restrict their citizens’ rights under the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.  Weld County commissioners are considering a similar move.  At least three Colorado county sheriffs have made public statements vowing to oppose any law or order that, again in their estimation, violates the US or Colorado constitutions.  In response, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has said “they (county officials) don’t get to decide.  The Supreme Court gets to decide the parameters of Second Amendment rights.” 

I’m siding with our attorney general on this point, as have most of Colorado’s county sheriffs and elected officials.  Our system of government, with checks and balances assured through separation of powers, has prevailed for more than two hundred years.  An official has three options when faced with the prospect of enforcing any law that the official finds onerous: carry out the law as it stands, challenge it in court, or resign from his or her position. 

But the real tragedy in all this discourse is that we have allowed the debate since the murderous rampage in Newtown, Connecticut —  and before that in Aurora and elsewhere — to distract us from our essential purpose.  We seem to have lost sight that the mission before us is to prevent, now and in the future, another horrible massacre of innocents. 

Twenty children murdered in their first grade classroom.  Visualize that awful scene.  Imagine yourself one of the first responders, police officers and medics, seeing the carnage that day.  The very thought chills us to our soul.  We cannot –absolutely will not– allow our pursuit of answers to this horrendous crime to be sidetracked by endless argument over peripheral issues, however important these may seem to some at the moment. 

Undersheriff Spezze, like many of you, has a personal interest in this.  The father of a vivacious, lively little girl in fourth grade, John deplores, as do I, the diverting of attention and debate away from finding solutions to these awful events to topics that produce nothing in the way of preventing future ones.  For this reason, he and I have vowed to keep our focus squarely on the needs of our own community and to avoid the rancorous and unproductive debate over firearms policy or anything else not related to finding solutions here, in our county, our community. 

Your sheriff’s office has been working diligently with the Salida and Buena Vista police departments, and with the two school districts, on creating plans to keep our schools safe from predators.  Only a week or so ago the local Buena Vista newspaper published a two-page spread on a “lock down” exercise at Avery Parsons School.  Similar drills will follow. 

In addition, all law enforcement officers in our county routinely practice active shooter response.  We have formed a county tactical team, soon to expand regionally to include Lake County and Leadville police officers, who practice specialized maneuvers to confront high risk challenges. 

Our partners at West Central Mental Health have agreed to provide training to school staff members and first responders in the recognition of emotionally disturbed persons so that early intervention measures can be taken to prevent violence.  Other measures have been taken at local schools to prevent violence against our children, and those efforts will continue… you have our word on that.

John and I will dismiss no proposal out of hand, including one that would allow certain school officials to be armed in the school.  A bill to permit that practice was defeated by Colorado lawmakers this week and indeed, we have our own reservations as to the wisdom of such a policy.  However, we believe every reasonable suggestion should receive consideration if it offers even a scintilla of a chance that it will secure the safety of our children.   

More needs to be done. We must insist on unrelenting prosecution of offenders who employ firearms in their crimes.  We will continue to seize and destroy weapons used in crimes.  Our policy to destroy rather than to auction seized handguns and contraband firearms remains unchanged.  We will, limited only by our resources, create training programs for churches and businesses in our county aimed at preventing or responding to armed threats. 

We can’t do this alone.  We welcome your advice and suggestions at www.chaffeesheriff.org.

2 Comments for this entry

Tina Street
March 15th, 2013 on 12:11 pm

Sheriff Palmer:

Thank you. For both this intelligent editorial, and the ability to not only define your lane, but stay in it. I am continually grateful to live in Chaffee County, and having elected officials of your caliber certainly contributes to that feeling.

Regards, Tina Street

Ann Howard
March 15th, 2013 on 4:26 pm

AMEN! Please continue on your present course of action.