After Obama's executive orders, concerns of Manatee gun rights supporters shift to future

ejohnson@bradenton.comJanuary 20, 2013 

MANATEE -- Gun owners were worried when President Barack Obama announced he would issue executive orders on gun control last week after receiving research findings from a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden following the Newtown, Conn., shooting massacre a month ago.

Would the president ban assault rifles or other firearms? Would there be a federally regulated magazine capacity?

Those concerns were temporarily eased when Obama issued 23 orders Wednesday that neither ban nor limit weapons or ammunition sales.

Manatee County resident and National Rifle Association member Daniel, who requested his last name not be published, hunts for recreation.

"They weren't as bad as a lot of people were thinking they would be," said Daniel,

who also builds and repairs guns, including AR-15s, as a hobby. "I think it would have been crazy if he tried to sign something by himself that was a ban. This sounds more like mental health and things that should be in place or already are in place."

Many of the orders are already being implemented locally, said Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube.

"We already work very close with our state attorney's office to get the largest amount of time with those that we actually arrest with firearms, especially convicted felons," Steube said. "I have a review panel, that before we give guns back to anybody, there is a process we go through which includes a background check. We already have (a weapon safety campaign) through crime prevention. All of the certified deputies have already been through (active shooter) training and they're starting to go back through it again."

But now gun rights supporters are concerned for the future. Obama did make additional proposals that would require action by Congress, including legislation that would ban assault weapons, limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds and require background checks on all gun sales by licensed dealers, private sellers and gun show salesman.

"The biggest thing the gun community is afraid of is an actual ban on certain types of weapons and magazine capacity," Daniel said. "People like me and the gun-control crowd believe in the same thing -- we want everyone to be safe but we go about it in different ways.

"We believe in taking responsibility in our own hands to keep our families safe. They believe in taking guns away from people to protect people. Those are the weapons we would use to defend our home and families in crisis situations. No one has ever been in that situation and said, 'I wish I had less ammunition with me.'"

Steube has previously told the Herald that historically, crime rates have not decreased when weapon bans have been in place because "bad guys are going to get guns."

Pat Flynn, owner of Bullet Blasters gun shop in Palmetto, said Obama's orders and proposals were a popular topic at the National Shooting Sports Foundation SHOT Show he attended last week in Las Vegas.

"A lot of people are concerned about how it will affect the industry and jobs," Flynn said, adding that he and other gun shop owners have faced stocking problems as gun sales increase with the talk of weapon bans. "Nobody in the industry is opposed to having them access more information about individuals to make sure they aren't mentally unstable."

Daniel and Flynn agree that the orders are addressing the issues of mental health, with more in-depth background checks and owner safety education. Both would like to see a crackdown on criminals owning weapons. Obama did sign several orders regarding gun violence prevention and prosecution of gun crimes.

"It should be about saving lives. It's about public safety," Flynn said. "Public safety is not about honest, legal people owning firearms, but about crazy people who don't abide by laws."

Another area of concern is the vagueness of some orders and how they will be implemented, especially those dealing with physicians and mental health. One order clarifies that doctors can speak to patients about guns in their homes.

"That one might be the strangest of all," Daniel said. "I feel like the mental health thing is so hard to talk about."

Daniel said it is a "fine line" to determine if someone is seeking temporary psychological help or medication because of a personal situation or if an individual is mentally unstable to the point of being a danger to themselves or others.

Mary Ruiz, president of Manatee Glens, a local mental health and addiction treatment facility, said they rarely have patients threatening violence on society.

"People with serious mental illness have lower violence rates than the general public," Ruiz said. "These one-in-a-million cases where you have a person take a gun and take lives are such outliers. They're so extraordinarily unique."

When treating patients who have anger and aggression issues, Ruiz said workers identify triggers of violence and tools to prevent escalation.

"I think President Obama is on the right track with mental health first aid because that helps people identify mental illness and seek treatment," said Ruiz, who said children should be screened in the same way they are for vision or scoliosis. "If they are treated early, that young person never has to progress to psychotic breaks or bipolar episodes. They don't have to experience the acute phases of the illness."

Ruiz said one of the most important factors is funding and education.

"We don't have help for everyone who needs it in our nation, which is why you hear stories of parents struggling to get help and dealing with impossible situations at home," she said.

Ruiz acknowledged that she is not an expert in gun control policy, but believes the nation should focus on mental health aid.

"I am highly skeptical that we can keep guns out of the hands of those who mean to do evil," Ruiz said. "If you wanted to bet on the sure approach, the one already proven and evidence-based, it's treating mental illness. That's the one thing the nation agrees on. We don't agree on gun control."

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.

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