Sheriff’s half right, once you look past the rhetoric

Ian Parkinson
Ian Parkinson The Tribune

Sheriff Ian Parkinson got it half right. In his recent letter to Vice President Joe Biden, he was absolutely correct to call attention to the need to improve mental health care if we’re to prevent more tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

On the issue of gun control, though, the sheriff went too far when he wrote that he will not “ turn law abiding citizens into criminals by enforcing gun control legislation that will not solve or prevent tragedy.”

Here’s our concern: It’s one thing to criticize legislation; it’s quite another to refuse to enforce it.

Certainly, the sheriff has an absolute duty to uphold the Constitution, including the Second Amendment. But none of the gun restrictions on the table would strip law-abiding citizens of their right to own weapons, be it for protection, hunting, or as collector’s items. We can see no basis, then, for a law enforcement officer to refuse to enforce legislation passed by duly elected lawmakers.

Practically speaking, we don’t expect Parkinson or any other California sheriff to rise up in rebellion against any new federal gun control laws. After all, California already has some of the strictest laws in the nation — laws Parkinson told us he supports, by the way.

We just hope Parkinson’s real message doesn’t get lost in the fiery rhetoric.

First and foremost, the sheriff is concerned that, in their rush to move forward with gun control legislation, the president and Congress are neglecting reforms that would improve the quality of mental health care in this nation.

We agree. If we’re to prevent more heartbreaking acts of violence — not only mass shootings like Sandy Hook, but also the random homicides that never make national news — we must overhaul our mental health care system.

Too many families have been left to fend for mentally ill loved ones in isolation and fear, especially as funds for counseling and other treatment have been cut again and again.

We join Parkinson in urging both Washington and Sacramento to give equal attention to this issue in all discussions of gun violence.

But this doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition.

We can still move forward with measures to keep weapons, particularly assault weapons, out of the hands of criminals — measures that 61 percent of California voters favored in a recent Field Poll.

We strongly support President Barack Obama’s proposals for a nationwide ban on military, assault-style weapons, for expanded background checks and stricter limits on high-capacity ammunition clips — restrictions similar to those we already have in California.

We recognize that no gun control law, no mental health program, no system of background checks is ever going to guarantee there won’t be another mass shooting of innocents at a school or a movie theater or a shopping mall.

But that’s no reason to throw up our arms and give up.

It’s time to demand that our elected leaders in Washington and Sacramento stop grandstanding and get to work.

In California especially, lawmakers have been throwing a hodgepodge of proposals — everything from taxing ammunition to banning gun shows at the Cow Palace — against the wall in the hope that something will stick.

It’s time to stop and set some priorities — starting with mental health.