As Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin sat across the conference table from me — doing his best to explain why he sent a letter to the vice president of the United States — I thought it a perfect time to get to the bottom line.
“If all guns were outlawed in Douglas County tomorrow, would crime go up, or down?” I asked.
The county’s uniformed and crew-cutted top law enforcement official didn’t blink.
“Up,” he said. “I believe the fact that we have an armed citizenry acts as a deterrent to criminals.”
And how armed is our local citizenry? For starters, the county has issued more than 4,000 concealed carry weapons permits. That means four of every 100 people you bump into is probably packing heat. That number, of course, climbs if you consider those who do not have a permit, but pack anyway.
That’s some math I would consider if I was, for example, considering a car jacking or mugging.
“Let’s see…which of the next 10 cars should I choose? Should I go for the one with the NRA decal, or the one with the “VISUALIZE WORLD PEACE” bumper sticker?
If you include those Douglas County residents who don’t feel the need to pack “heat” when they are out and about, but have guns or rifles in the home, that percentage probably climbs beyond at least every other home, which creates another dilemma for would-be burglars, or others who may be weighing their odds.
The path of least resistance is always the best option. Which is why we see mass killings at schools and malls and places the killers know will offer little to no resistance. Killers typically don’t pay attention to signs that read: NO GUNS PERMITTED.
But if the point of gun control is to somehow reduce the number of guns in a community and therefore reduce gun-related crimes, the sheriff isn’t buying it and neither do I.
My question to the sheriff wasn’t about automatic weapons, or limits on magazines. I asked him if he thought an outright ban on all guns would reduce crime and he said no.
The sheriff has been taking some heat for his gun stance. He indicated in his letter to the vice president that he planned to enforce the Constitution, referring of course to the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to keep and bear arms. He visited us to clarify his letter a bit, since its purpose was to send a clear message to his constituents (he was just re-elected, so the letter had nothing to do with winning votes) that he was not a proponent of gun control. He’s smart enough to know that Vice President Joe Biden could care less what the sheriff of Douglas County thinks about anything.
At the end of the day, the sheriff and his deputies are charged with enforcing state and local laws and until Oregon adopts its own amendments to its gun laws, it makes no difference what the federal government does. Do you think the state of Washington cares what the feds think about marijuana? In the last election our neighbors to the north essentially legalized pot (you can have an ounce of pot if you are 21 and over), bringing new meaning to the famous “Space Needle.” That means local law enforcement will be enforcing those statutes and not the more restrictive federal marijuana laws.
I also asked the sheriff about automatic weapons and whether he thought they should be banned. And before we get to his answer it’s important that we’re all on the same page when it comes to definitions. A semi-automatic weapon is capable of firing rounds rapidly, but you still have to pull the trigger with each round until the magazine is empty. With an automatic weapon you only have to pull the trigger once and hold it until the magazine is empty. I can’t tell you how many people in the media get that wrong.
The sheriff said he does not support a ban on automatic weapons, believing that responsible people should have an ability to buy one if, for example, they believe it allows them a level playing field. That assumes, of course, that bad guys will always try to get the upper hand.
The same goes for limits on magazine capacity. Some suggest that there ought to be a 10-round limit on magazines and on the surface that sounds wonderful. Until you consider that it takes seconds to replace an empty magazine with a full one. The difference between a 30-round magazine and three, 10-round magazines is probably six to 10 seconds in the hands of an experienced operator. Pop an empty one out and slam a new one in.
I’m hard-pressed to see how that would have made a difference in a class full of terrified kindergartners, or on a bus loaded with unarmed passengers, or in a movie theater filled with unarmed patrons who are frozen with fear.
The sheriff said he fully supports the president and vice president when it comes to keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. And he wonders how that will work, given the issue of patient rights and confidentiality statutes.
“Are you mentally ill?”
Good luck defining a mental illness. Last I checked there were more than 200 classified sizes and shapes, from personality disorders to depression. That’s a pretty wide spectrum. Throw in substance abuse and the ocean gets wider.
All things considered, Douglas County is a pretty safe place to live. That’s a credit to law enforcement and, I suspect, a citizenry that takes its Second Amendment seriously.
I’m for anything that will reduce crime in our communities. But when it comes to fighting crime and how we can best protect ourselves from it, I’ll listen to the experts over the politicians.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.