St. Louis County Police Chief: Obama's gun control proposal 'feel good' effort

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by Maggie Crane / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on January 16, 2013 at 10:45 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 16 at 11:01 PM

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- President Barack Obama is urging congress to approve new restrictions in an effort to prevent mass shootings like the Newtown school massacre.

“If there was even one thing we could do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try,” President Obama said.  “And I’m going to do my part.”

The President signed 23 executive orders as part of a new, $500 million program.  The proposal calls for four main changes:  close background check loopholes, ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, make schools safer, and increase access to mental health services.

News 4 has talked to people on all sides of the issue, including St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch.

Chief Fitch says the 15-page proposal called “Now is the Time” is mostly a “feel good” effort to tackle a real problem.  He doesn’t think a lot of the proposal will work in practice, but he is in favor of sweeping changes to background checks and mental health services.

However Fitch says he doesn’t think a ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines is the answer.  He points to his own duty weapon and the 12-round clip that goes in it.  The new proposal would limit that clip to 10 rounds.

“The weapons that we’ve seen are not machine guns, aren’t automatic weapons; they were just like a revolver or a pistol where we have to pull a round every time. Now what the argument is, is that he had a high-capacity magazine—more than 10 rounds—that you can get more bullets out faster.  That’s true, but all you have to do is have more magazines,” Chief Fitch explained.  “Just like the police carry multiple magazines, it takes me about a second and a half to reload a magazine, so really, if you restrict the magazine capacity, and say we have 10 bullets instead of 12 in a clip, really all the mass shooter has to do at that point is practice reloading skills.”

St. Louis County issued more than 5,000 permits for conceal and carry just last year.  But the chief says, current background checks don’t do much to keep anyone safe because there’s no way to check a gun owner’s mental health history.

“We need a database, a computerized database with accurate, contemporary information that we can check to see if they’ve been committed to a mental health facility,” Chief Fitch said.  “Today, we can’t tell that.”

Sean Johnson, charged with a shooting at the Stevens Institute of Business and Arts, is a good example.  Known to have a history of mental illness, the student allegedly got his hands on an illegal weapon and shot his financial aid director in downtown St. Louis on Tuesday.

“Today we don’t have a place to take someone like that.  Back in the day we had institutional locations where we could take people like that,” Chief Fitch said.  “Today everybody like that is just main stream and hopefully stay on their medicine.”

The proposal also calls for more money to fund school resource officers and counselors, but the chief would like to see that go even further to train and arm qualified staff.

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