In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, our thoughts and prayers will forever be with family and friends of its victims, along with the survivors who will forever struggle. This tragedy has touched all of Nevada. Even in Lyon County, we have heard personal stories from our citizens: a former subordinate soldier who died, a wounded son-in-law, and a mother and daughter who escaped the carnage. #NevadaStrong
Normally these posts are written without political influences. As a non-partisan elected Sheriff and listening to extreme politicians and activists pandering in preparation for the next election, I am compelled to speak. Answers lie before us on the gun debate; except we are too blind to see it and too lazy to work towards it. We must tackle mental health and stronger sentencing for gun offenses.
Without any special insight into the Las Vegas massacre, I have gathered information only from media outlets. However, the shooter had contact with medical professionals because of reported prescriptions. No sane and rational person would wantonly shoot a gun into a crowd of unarmed people. As experts continue seeking a motive, there is little doubt that he had a mental health disorder. These are similar characteristics with James Holmes in the Aurora movie theater, Seug-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech, and Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
When a person attempts to buy a gun from a licensed Nevada dealer, they are required to complete a Nevada’s Point of Sale background check. A state representative reviews the prospective buyer’s criminal history to ensure that they are not a prohibited person through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). While the ex-felon field is routinely checked, there is also a mental health field that is not being used.
NCIC mental health criteria has to be addressed by law enforcement, behavioral health professionals, BATFE agents, and state court systems. Instead of passing more unenforceable gun laws, we must establish NCIC procedures to prohibit persons identified with mental health disorders from purchasing guns while ensuring constitutional safeguards. I believe that Nevada’s bi-partisan Sheriffs have the same opinion related to this issue and that mental health NCIC entry has to be solved.
Another needed discussion to reduce street level gun violence is a stronger sentencing policy. Here is a Lyon County example. An illegal alien is sentenced to prison for trafficking methamphetamine. He becomes naturalized in prison and is released after serving several years. Later, as a convicted felon, a warrant for his arrest is issued in a stolen gun case. During the arrest, he is in possession of another gun. He is given probation for two counts of ex-felon in possession of a firearm.
When my law enforcement career began, criminals had a general fear of stealing, using, or being in possession of guns. The fear of going straight to prison was a strong deterrent and sadly is no longer prevalent among criminals. Another Lyon County example is that of a convicted person who is placed in drug court for stealing guns from several homes. Only when the consequences out-weighs the reward, will gun crimes be deterred.
Every community wants to live in relative safety. However, social justice programs are selecting the wrong offenders for leniency. Another Lyon County example is the arrest of a heroin dealer who was trading in stolen weapons. He pleads guilty and is released on own recognizance (OR) while awaiting sentencing. After release, he immediately burglarizes more homes, allegedly threatens a citizen with a gun, and leads us in a pursuit. While he is back in custody awaiting additional charges, our citizen’s relative safety has been degraded.
It is recognized that Nevada has budget restrictions and strong gun offense sentences becomes costly; however, what is the cost in lives lost from street violence related to gun offenses. The United States Department of Justice must become more active with local gun violence and begin adopting cases. As opposed to state prison sentences where the convicted person might serve only a minor portion of the sentence, almost 85-percent of a federal sentence is served. Yes, there is a need to increase BATFE agents and federal attorneys to adopt local cases into federal courts.
Until we find solutions with mental health NCIC entries and enact stronger sentencing for gun offenses, both sides will continue to wag their tails on gun control.
And finally, I had the pleasure of meeting Austin Rice at the Northern Nevada Concerns of Police Survivors annual Evening in Blue fundraiser. Austin is a survivor. His dad, Lyon County Deputy George Rice was shot and killed in the line of duty on June 01, 1984. Deputy Rice was killed by a person with a mental health disorder and who should not have been in possession of a firearm.
As always, keep the faith.