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The federal government is focusing on the wrong areas when it comes to the debate on gun control.
That’s according to Paris Police Chief Bob Hundley and County Court at Law Judge Bill Harris, who spoke to Lamar County Republicans during the party’s monthly meeting Thursday.
“What it looks like Washington is going after right now is not the problem,” Hundley said. “The problem is people.”
Hundley said he’s lost count of how many murders and violent crimes he has worked in nearly four decades as a police officer, but the vast majority of those using guns would have never come up in a background check. The common denominator in violent crime isn’t the weapons involved, Hundley said. It’s people with mental problems pulling the trigger.
“I have never prosecuted a person for committing a crime with a gun who purchased it at a store or gun show,” Harris said. “These guns are being purchased on the street, or they’re being stolen from law-abiding citizens’ homes.”
The nation is getting caught up in “the political moment,” Harris said, but there’s no real need for new legislation – just enforce the ones already on the books.
“They say you ought to make a law that says a mentally ill person can’t buy a firearm. Guess what? That’s been the law of the land for decades,” Harris said. “It’s been the law of the land for over 100 years that if you’re a convicted felon, you cannot lawfully possess a firearm.”
The current discussion about gun control started with the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the lives of 26 people, most of them children.
Most of the discussion now has to do with “assault” weapons and high-capacity magazines. What makes a weapon fall into the “assault” category is usually more cosmetic than anything, Hundley said.
The Second Amendment, which has the famous “right to bear arms” clause, had three drafts, all of which made it clear that the Founding Fathers considered firearm ownership an individual right, Harris said. It wasn’t until 2008 with the Heller decision that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that idea. That ruling is not necessarily rock solid, he said. Heller was a 5-4 decision. The dissenting side said that the right to bear arms is entirely conditional upon being a member of the military, he said.
“What would happen if that case went before the Supreme Court today? Could you guaranty me five justices would say the right to own a firearm is an individual right? I don’t think so.”
Hundley doesn’t think the government will start directing law enforcement to confiscate ammunition or weapons, but he wasn’t sure how he would respond if it did happen.
“I hope we don’t get to the point where I have to make that call,” he said.
When Texas passed its concealed handgun licensing law in the mid 1990s, Hundley said he worried that officers would wind up shooting legally armed civilians because cops were trained to consider anyone armed a threat. Nearly 20 years later, and it hasn’t happened yet. The police chief said that’s due largely to training.
A gun is a tool, he said. Knowing when and how to use it require education. And, he said, there may be times where that is absolutely necessary.
“I would love to tell you if you have any kind of issue, we’re going to be there right away and save lives, but I don’t like to tell lies,” Hundley said. “They can probably be there within five minutes, but that may be three minutes too late.”