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August 9, 2013

Oakland County seeks feedback on gun violence report

Study covers law enforcement, schools, mental health and more

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

OAKLAND COUNTY — The Oakland County Board of Commissioners’ Public Services Committee recently completed a report exploring the topic of gun violence in Oakland County. Their findings are available online at www.oakgov.com/boc. Public feedback is sought, and can be provided at the website.

The report was compiled by experts from all levels of law enforcement, the mental health care field, and the schools, as well as advocates of responsible gun ownership.

The issue is complicated and no cure-all was found, but the report identified what various agencies can do — or continue to do — to help minimize the danger.

“I think the fact there’s been so many violent acts with guns in recent years led us to sit down and take a look at the different nuances of the problem, to see if there’s anything we can do at the local level to at least reduce the violence,” said Oakland County Commissioner Gary McGillivray.

“I’m an avid gun owner myself,” he added. “I used to hunt — I don’t anymore, but I still have guns. I’m not in favor of doing away with guns completely; I think the right to bear arms is an important part of society. … But we don’t know the answer. That’s why we want to hear your input on all of these ideas.”

Databases
The report emphasized the importance of law enforcement agencies sharing data at the local, state and federal levels, which can then be used in instant background checks in firearm sales. The report also recommends these databases be made fully available for voluntary instant background checks on participants in private firearm exchanges.

Also encouraged was the practice of tracking denials of firearm permits, and recording a person’s history of illegal drug sales and/or domestic violence offenses, which could help inform whether to grant a firearm permit.

“My son worked at Dunham’s Sporting Goods, and he sold a gun once to a fellow who went off and committed suicide with it,” McGillivray said. “My son did everything he was supposed to do, but the gentleman had some kind of a mental problem. Because of certain laws and the record keeping for mental health matters, that detail went by the wayside. Some departments put all of that information in, and others don’t.

“For example,” he said, “if someone had abused their wife, on numerous occasions, and were adjudicated in a court of law, sometimes those records don’t go in, and if they do, it’s six to eight months later, and in the meantime, he’s gone out and killed his wife. So there needs to be a better way to regulate what information goes in, and how quickly.”  

Law enforcement
Stronger deterrents against violent gun crimes could help, the report said, starting with tougher penalties in state sentencing guidelines, and prosecuting violations under federal laws with greater penalties, when possible.

The report suggested expanding U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade’s Project Ceasefire program to incorporate the at-risk youths of Oakland County. Project Ceasefire focuses on teaching at-risk youths the consequences of gun violence, and helping them to find another way. Promoting the  work of the Sheriff’s Gang Violence Task Force was another suggestion.

Other recommendations: Continue to cooperate across jurisdictional lines, and drum up public awareness for identifying potential gun threats and reporting them.

Mental health
The report said efforts should be made to remove the stigma associated with mental health treatment so more people seek help. Improving access to mental health care services would help.  

The report also suggests public awareness campaigns to help people understand the warning signs of those at risk, and promoting crisis intervention services like Common Ground’s hotline, teaching people about the many ways they can reach out for help, including text messaging.

Another suggestion: A sticker campaign that would recognize retailers who enforce the ratings requirements on violent videogames.

School safety
The report underscored the importance of developing a model school safety policy, containing best practices at the local, state and federal levels. This would include educating school faculty, parents and students about how to identify warning signs of at-risk youth. Also supported was a requirement for all schools to limit and monitor access to their facilities.

Each school should have an effective emergency plan for violent situations, the report said, and safety drills should be conducted on a regular basis. The report encourages every school district to consider law enforcement liaisons, which could help the district improve overall student safety. The report also suggests that districts provide law enforcement with direct access to school surveillance and communication equipment. 

Since each district is unique with different student demographics, the report calls for more flexibility in allowing schools and other institutions to tailor safety policies to the needs of their campus. The report also says more state support should be given to Youth Assistance groups throughout Michigan.

“We used to have a social worker in each Youth Assistance office, but now we are down to one working for several offices at a time, and that reduces the time they can spend with each child and their family,” McGillivray said. “So I think we want to make sure there is a continued funding source for Youth Assistance.”

Guns rights
Raising awareness for how to properly secure firearms — and the consequences of neglecting to do so — was one recommendation. Gun safety and training should be promoted in general, the report said.

Other areas that could benefit from an increase in awareness: How to rapidly report stolen weapons, and the added safety in purchasing firearms through a registered federal firearms dealer.

“This study is not about limiting safe gun ownership, and that’s one thing I think the survey, and several people who responded, were relieved to see,” said Oakland County Commissioner Marcia Gershenson. “We’re not trying to affect anyone’s second amendment rights. Our group is supportive of them. We’re just trying to find what we can do on a county level, and what kind of recommendations we can make to the state. … We want as much input from the public as possible. “

To read the full report and provide your feedback, visit www.oakgov.com/boc.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.