MUSCATINE, Iowa — Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, hosted a conference call with sheriffs and police chiefs from the Second Congressional District he represents Wednesday afternoon to discuss what needs to be done about issues such as mental health and gun control.
Fourteen law enforcement officials, including Muscatine County Sheriff Dave White, participated in the call to voice their concerns about the areas they serve and protect.
Loebsack said that even though gun control has been thrust back into the national spotlight in the wake of the Newtown school shooting last month, the issue remains complex.
“We know there’s no quick fixes,” Loebsack said. “I’m here to be open-minded about what all of you think we should be doing.”
White touched on two points that President Barack Obama talked about during his press conference about gun control measures Wednesday. A few hours before the call, the president urged Congress to pass universal background checks for gun buyers and to enact bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
“I would strongly support stricter background checks,” White said. He added that gun owners who want to sell an old firearm personally might feel “more comfortable” selling the weapon if there are stricter requirements on buyers.
White told Loebsack a story about a recent visit to a gun show in Cedar Rapids, where the prices were higher and the lines for high capacity magazines and assault-style weapons were “at least a block long.”
“And I don’t think they were being bought with the thought of being turned in,” White said. “People are going to get guns if they want one. Murder is illegal and that doesn’t seem to stop folks from killing people. Those two things [a magazine limit and assault weapon ban], I don’t think, are going to be effective.”
Ultimately, White said, “With 300 million guns in the United States, I think we’re just spinning our wheels. People are going to get guns.”
Appanoose County Sheriff Gary Anderson and Davis County Sheriff Dave Davis both represent counties that border Missouri. Both said they’d prefer tougher — and universal — background checks because it’s sometimes difficult for them to get information from other states when they do their own background checks.
“We sometimes don’t receive the proper information needed to do a proper background check,” Davis said. “It’s hard to know if someone from Florida has been under a doctor’s care in the past.”
Almost every sheriff or police chief on the call agreed that mental health reform is needed first. Many talked about the lack of beds and care for mental health patients, including White, who told a story about how a deputy was called to pick someone up for an emergency committal last Friday and the Sheriff’s Office had to watch the person until Monday afternoon because there was nowhere to bring the patient.
“We’re supposed to be transports, not guards,” White said. “When there is no bed for three days, that stretches our personnel thin.”
Following White’s story, Loebsack suggested that law enforcement officials in the field make sure they share their concerns with state officials on how the upcoming regionalization process for mental health in Iowa is implemented. He said he plans to have the same kind of conference call soon specifically dealing with the mental health issue in his district.
Loebsack said he wasn’t making any comments on the president’s press conference because he was still looking through the president’s proposal.
“I want to hear from as many people as possible about what we should be doing,” Loebsack said.