School Safety Is Paramount, Says Sheriff
MONTROSE – Gun violence, particularly as it relates to school safety, was the advertised topic last Wednesday, Jan. 30, at the Heidi’s Deli forum and both guest speakers Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap and Montrose Police Chief Tom Chin offered some possible solutions other than new gun control measures.
Gun rights was the topic most in the standing-room-only crowd came to vent about. Specifically, the perceived infringement of Second Amendment rights by proposed gun regulation at both the national and state levels.
“And how do you feel about the federal government coming and confiscating our weapons?” a woman standing along the wall asked at one point.
“I haven’t seen any proposals like that,” Sheriff Dunlap answered. “I don’t think you’ll see it.”
“It’s just a matter of time before they try,” the woman said.
Dunlap began the hour by saying that the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary were “weighing heavily on everybody’s mind . . . It was the work of a deranged mind,” he Dunlap. “I can’t put my mind around it . . . But now our country is in divisiveness.”
Veering between the gun-control and school-safety issues, Dunlap explained, briefly, about a “planned incident with sim[ulated] guns at Olathe High School” in December, shortly after Newtown.
(Montrose Schools Superintendent Mark McHale told The Watch later that the “active shooter simulation” had been planned well before the massacre at Sandy Hook, that the district conducts one or more such exercises each year, and that it did not take place on a school day. “It was a Saturday during winter break,” he explained. Volunteer students and teachers participated along with law enforcement and “observers” from Grand Junction, who evaluated the school’s, and the cops’ response. “We considered not doing it” because of the proximity to Sandy Hook, McHale said. “But then we thought, actually, what better time?”)
Dunlap told the crowd at Heidi’s that he assumed “you have read my position paper on the Second Amendment. We can’t point the finger. It’s not the guns that did it.”
He then listed a couple of the things he believed did do it, and need to be addressed, locally as well as nationwide: the miserable state of mental health care and treatment (“Our jails cannot handle the problem,” he said.), and the proliferation of violent video in America.
“I haven’t seen one word on violent movies and video games. Anybody seen the new Hansel and Gretel movie? It’s certainly not the Hansel and Gretel I read! We have got to be responsible and say no to our kids watching this stuff.
“We need a cooling off period,” he said. “Right now we’re operating off of a lot of emotion. We should not enact laws that either go against the constitution, or are not enforceable.”
Chin then took the microphone and a reassuring tone vis-à-vis the schools. “We’re a lot safer today than we were two months ago,” he said. “We still have a lot to do, but school safety is on everyone’s minds. I think we have something very good happening right now.
“We need to be talking about the criminal,” Chin said. “We have a lot of issues to sort out. I’m not sure gun control is one of them.”
He went on to deliver a litany of facts about mass shooters: 96 percent are male; 98 percent act alone (“It’s very difficult to identify them ahead of time,” Chin said.); the attacks are dynamic and quick – 2.6 deaths per minute, 8 minutes average from start to finish.
“You really are the eyes and ears,” Chin said to the crowd. “If you know about anyone, anybody who you think might be a threat . . . If we can intervene before any kind of incident, we can interrupt before anything bad happens.”
McHale had not planned to speak at the forum, but he was asked by the sheriff to comment. “It’s been a rough couple of months,” the district’s top man said. “I was a school principal when Columbine happened. There’s not one answer we can agree on to make our schools safer. Do we make them like an airport [with airport screening]? Do we bring in armed volunteers? Do we arm our teachers? Do we have armed security guards?
“The answer is the community coming together and talking and taking a commonsense approach. And this will all take time and money.”
Someone in the audience mentioned the Watchdog Program, which McHale confirmed had been a great success, particularly at the Oak Grove School: “Dads, granddads, mentors in the hallways, on the sports fields, teaching sportsmanship, etc., etc.”
“Are they armed?” came an audience question.
“No, that would be illegal,” McHale said.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we went back to our knees and came back to God?” said another voice in the crowd.
Another voice said, “I believe [Colorado] Senate Bill 9 is in committee now and would allow teachers to carry firearms.”
To which Sheriff Dunlap responded: “Do I think every teacher should be armed? No.” He also said he thought the bill had failed.
Chin added: “There are people who shouldn’t have a firearm. The last thing we want to do is create a problem when we’re trying to do something good.”
The woman who had voiced her worry about the inevitability of weapons confiscation spoke up again. “Our country is in moral decline. You have a federal government filled with morally declined people. Nothing gives them the right to take our guns.”
At which point forum stalwart Tricia Dickinson had to close the hour-long discussion.
School Safety Is Paramount, Says Sheriff