Sheriff’s gun control message to Congressional leaders
I am writing to you in response to proposals presented by the White House regarding measure to prevent future mass killings such as that perpetrated in Newtown, Connecticut recently.
As the elected Sheriff of Amador County and 38 year veteran of this profession, I have concerns regarding the proposals to limit citizens rights to possess certain firearms commonly referred to as “assault weapons” and the rationale behind such proposals. While identifying such weapons as the cause for such horrific acts perpetrated against the most innocent in our society, the reality of their impact on crime and specifically homicide, is conveniently overlooked during this debate either due to lack of knowledge of the facts or more ominously, that the facts conflict with a political agenda to control gun ownership in this country.
In 1987 I was employed as the Special Agent in Charge of the California Department of Justice Bureau of Investigations Office in Sacramento at the time of Patrick Purdy’s school shooting in Stockton. Agents from my office conducted an investigation on behalf of the Attorney General into this tragic event. As a result, new laws restricting “assault weapons” were passed in California despite the fact that murders committed by evil persons with these weapons were vary rare and unusual. (A 1990 California Department of Justice Report entitled Assault Weapons showed that of the 963 firearms used in homicides and submitted to the DOJ crime labs, only 36 met the definition of an assault weapon.) However, as a result of this pending ban and prior to its implementation law biding citizens purchased thousands of these weapons prior to these laws going into effect as well as many thousand rounds of ammunition. This created a huge infusion of these very weapons into our communities that would not have otherwise been purchased. The same has occurred as a result of these recent proposals that have come out of the White House.
Rather than addressing the criminals and dangerously mentally ill who use these weapons and others to commit their heinous acts, critically needed funding and effort was instead spent on defining which weapons were “evil” based on their physical characteristics. Certain weapons were banned simply because of how they looked rather than any real nexus to violent criminal activity or functionality. As an example, one of the characteristics that defined an “assault weapon” was a bayonet lug which is merely a receptacle for the fastening of a bayonet to a weapon. Other defining characteristics included the presence of a flash suppressor and a pistol grip. I am unaware of any instances where the mere physical appearance of a weapon has ever contributed to the anyone’s death.
The federal Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2010 reported that long gun related homicides per 100,000 population in the United States accounted for 0.2% of the total. Of these long guns it is reasonable to assume that only a fraction of the 0.2% met the definition of an assault weapon. In contrast, non-firearm related homicides accounted for 5.1% of the total.
In the 2010 California DOJ report entitled Homicide in California 1,809 homicides were reported in this state. Of these, all types of rifles combined accounted for 58 or 3.3% of the total. In contrast, homicide by knives accounted for 14.2% and personal weapons (hands/feet) accounted for 5.8% and blunt objects 4.7%.
California has enacted reasonable laws to prevent violent criminals and the mentally ill from acquiring weapons of any type. These measures include background checks and waiting periods for those wishing to purchase firearms. As a result, the homicide rate in my state declined 18.9% from 2001 to 2010 according to California DOJ’s reports. Preventing the wrong people from gaining access to any firearm, rather than prohibiting the law abiding citizen from doing so, is a proven method to reduce violence in our nation and tragedies such as Newtown.
In my professional opinion, Congress should only expend their limited resources on those violence prevention methods that have and will continue to be successful, i.e. rapid and universal background checks on perspective firearms buyers to prevent criminals and mentally ill from acquiring them, programs to remove firearms from the hands of criminals and the mentally ill who currently possess them illegally, severe punishment for those who use firearms in the commission of crime, and improved mental health systems to identify and treat those who exhibit violent tendencies.
I respectfully request your support in ensuring the protection of our citizen’s, and their Constitutional rights, through a reasonable, thoughtful, proven, and fact based approach to reduce gun violence.
Sheriff Martin A. Ryan
Publishers Note: Martin A. Ryan is the Sheriff-Coroner for Amador County.