As a mayor of a city with 90,000 residents, thousands of businesses, 11 public schools, and millions of visitors a year, I have a very keen interest in preventing gun violence where possible. As a former PTA president and father of two in our Broward County Public Schools, I have a very personal interest in protecting our children and schools.
Sunrise is also home to the only publicly owned recreational shooting range in Broward County. We welcome, and have enjoyed a positive relationship with, responsible gun owners — those interested in recreational and competitive shooting are friends, neighbors, visitors and residents.
In talking to responsible gun owners, law enforcement and residents, there is an evolving consensus: We must take whatever reasonable steps we can to prevent guns being placed in the hands of the irresponsible, the deranged and criminals.
This is not simply a reaction to a single event or a series of sensational events. In America, each day, there are 33 murders committed with guns.
• School Resource Officers play an important role in protecting our schools and community by addressing problems of drugs, gangs, family issues, neighborhood problems and at-risk youth. In Sunrise, SROs are also members of SWAT, Field Force, Hostage Negotiators and other specialized units — while still being able to open a milk carton for a frustrated first-grader or help a parent navigate the car loop.
• Universal background checks on all sales, with meaningful enforcement and real penalties for violators.
It is estimated that 6.6 million guns a year are transferred without background checks, many advertised through the Internet. Murders happen every day where the killer would have failed a background check, but bought the gun in a private sale.
• Ensure background checks are meaningful by loading the necessary information into databases and linking databases.
Databases do prevent “bad guys” from getting guns. In 2009, over 150,000 were prohibited from purchasing. Since 1999, 1.7 million have been prohibited from buying guns from federally licensed dealers.
But, gaps have been blamed for allowing felons, those with domestic violence convictions and restraining orders and the mentally ill to actually obtain guns and permits to carry a concealed weapon.
• Fully prosecute existing laws and prohibit attempted purchases by those with firearm impediments and “straw sales” and increase penalties.
While laws exist, licensed dealers and law enforcement tell me there are too few resources to investigate and too few prosecutions when cases are developed. Statistics and common sense tell us those who fail will go get a firearm through a private sale and “straw sales.”
• We must severely increase penalties for crimes committed with guns.
• We must address mental health issues, including the fact that someone committed involuntarily for 72 hours under the “Baker Act” will have their guns returned to them by the police automatically upon discharge and that such commitment is never entered into a database. If they decide to go out and buy a gun legally, the background check does not spotlight the fact that they were involuntarily committed.
• We must penalize severely the possession of a firearm by someone who shouldn’t have a gun.
These solutions can be implemented as we discuss the thorny issues presented by so-called assault weapons and “high capacity” magazines.
We must take the steps we all agree will make a difference, even if these ideas do not stop all violence. The deranged and determined will always be a problem. But, doing nothing is not an option and becoming paralyzed by politics will cost lives.
Mike Ryan is mayor of the City of Sunrise, chair of the Broward League of Cities Public Safety Committee, co-chair of the Joint SRO Taskforce of the Broward League of Cities and a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition.