In mourning the murder by gunshot of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., America is engaged in soul-searching about causes.
Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger is reflective as well as cautionary. “There's a broader issue here than just guns and I think that's something that needs to be talked about,” he said. “We are not focusing on the realities of our society.”
At issue are the 6 million children involved in abuse cases every year. “Out of those 6 million children, five are killed on a daily basis at the hands of people they trust,” he said. “That's 1,825 children annually. We can't talk about how those children were killed because it's too grotesque. But what is America doing about that?”
In times of tragedy, it's easy to look at guns because the deaths from gunshot are horrific and sensational, Ensminger said. “But it doesn't compare to other things; in 2006, for instance, 24,000 people died from drug overdoses,” he said.
In Florida, the death rate from drug overdose has risen by 265 percent, while in 2010 2 million people around the nation admitted to illegally using pain-killer drugs, Ensminger said. “Since 1990, we've tripled in deaths involving overdoses,” he added.
For instance, in 2009, there were 10,300 homicides and 10.2 people out of 100,000 die every year by gunshot, he said.
With all the talk about gun control after the shootings Dec. 14, Ensminger questions the efficacy of steeper laws. “If we do gun control, who are we taking the guns away from? The good citizens,” he said. “I think I'm a reasonable person, a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment but I'm not radical. I think we have to listen to reason in America.”
Banning assault weapons won't stop the deaths of children in America. “We can blame assault rifles `til we're blue in the face but who are we going to blame for these children, five who die every day, by things we cannot discuss because that's how horrific they are?” he said. “Why wasn't there a stand after the Aurora-theater shooting? Because the American people don't want gun control. We're talking about conservatives and liberals alike.”
Ensminger is skeptical about a renewed focus on gun control. “Because it's somebody's political agenda and I think that's unfortunate and unfair to Americans when the reality is that we're losing children at the hands of people they trust,” he said. “That's what bothers me. What is the most serious cause of death to children in America? It's not guns.”
SHERIFF MIKE ENSMINGER'S PROPOSED SOLUTIONS TO THE VIOLENCE:
Admittedly, the conversation about guns presents a dilemma, said Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger. “I'm just as frightened about the course of this country as any other American. But I'm going to stand for what's reasonable and I think that's what our legislators have to stand for,” he said. “To see a child victimized by gun fire is something you will never forget. We have to set our sights on what can be done to stop these school massacres.”
However, rather than arming teachers, Ensminger favors closed campuses and bullet-proof windows. “We can lock the doors, secure our educational facilities; we don't have to wait,” he said. “We can secure our schools and I think it can be done at very low cost to our community.”
The recent massacres are the result of mental-health issues, he said. “We have to address what types of people are committing these crimes,” he said. “Look at Columbine, Aurora and Sandy Hook, the gunmen have all had mental-health problems.”
Ensminger agrees with a proposal by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to set aside $18.5 million to increase psychiatric services. “My belief is that, if a person has a history of taking medication - because a lot of times these people don't like to take their medication - or has a history of mental-health counseling, that should be part of the criteria,” he said. “If that person is demonstrating some type of behavior that would cause a law-enforcement officer concern for his or her personal safety, or that of somebody else, that should be it.”
For people who meet those criteria, the sheriff believes the evaluation period should be longer than 72 hours. “But it's not an easy process as it used to be. And what can you do in 72 hours?” he said. “I would rather see a greater length of time that would allow counselors a proper length of time to make a diagnosis, to treat that person.”
However, in a nod to gun control, Ensminger favors reducing the number of clips that hold ammunition. “We're talking a 15-round clip vs. a 30-round clip, which is what I've heard out of Washington, so far,” he said.
On the other hand, reducing clips is a long shot. “By trying to eliminate a particular gun or clip, is that going to stop shootings in America? It's not. How about the War on Drugs?” he said. “How about Three Strikes You're Out? How has any of that that worked? It hasn't. So why are we focused on guns?”
In the meantime, the sheriff's deputies are on alert. “We're doing extra patrols around the schools,” he said.