Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
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Local reaction mixed for Obama plan

FLORIDA KEYS -- The plan announced by President Obama last week to curb gun violence drew mixed reaction from local mental health professionals, public officials and gun shop owners.

Obama's plan, which he brought forward just over a month after the Dec. 14 Newtown massacre, includes $500 million in federal funding to improve school safety, expand the nation's mental health network for students and young adults, incentivize states to share data from background checks and more.

But it's his proposals to ban assault weapons, limit bullet magazines to 10 rounds and require universal background checks that are drawing the most attention and controversy.

In Key West this week, the City Commission is expected to heed the advice of the city's Police Chief Donnie Lee by passing a resolution that urges Congress to go forward with those measures. In Islamorada, meanwhile, Village Mayor Ken Philipson said he plans to raise the same issue for discussion before the Village Council soon, but he wants to go one step further by proposing that the village require owners of semi-automatic weapons to keep those guns secured under lock and key.

"I want everything in a safe," Philipson said.

Not everyone, though, is as eager to embrace the Obama plan. Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said last week that he's going to stay out of the debate.

"My job is to enforce the laws. We're not policy makers," Ramsay said. "I do believe in an individual's right to own and bear arms and also reasonable gun regulations."

Meanwhile, County Commissioner David Rice panned Obama's proposed gun control measures, calling them "unworkable."

"I think it is woefully narrow," Rice said. "Do we care whether our kids are killed with baseball bats or with guns?"

Unsurprisingly, Tom Kiffney, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office sergeant who owns Kiffney's Firearms Indoor Range in Key Largo, shares Rice's view on an assault weapons ban and on limiting the size of magazines.

"You're definitely going to keep law-abiding citizens from obtaining these items. Criminals, they don't abide by the law," Kiffney said. He added that there are already so many high-capacity magazines and clips on the streets that curbing size now wouldn't make a dent.

But Kiffney embraced the remainder of the Obama plan, including universal background checks and the 23 executive orders the president signed last week. Among those orders are directives on new federal gun violence research, establishing a national gun safety campaign and making more background check data available, especially between states.

The plan calls for $230 million to go toward school safety measures and $155 to bolster the availability of mental health services for children and young adults.

On the school side, Obama has asked that most of the money be provided directly to school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire safety officers, counselors and psychologists and to train school staff on how to foster safe and nurturing on-campus environments.

Monroe County School District Superintendent Mark Porter said he's happy the plan focuses on training and emphasizes local control.

"I am hearing a preventative type of message, not just responsive measures," Porter said. "That's the approach we want to take."

Frank Rabbito, senior vice president of the Guidance Care Clinic in Marathon, the Florida Keys' only state- and county-funded outpatient mental health facility, said he also likes Obama's approach, with its emphasis on training teachers and child caregivers to recognize mental health warning signs.

"Clearly additional revenue which trains people in early intervention and prevention will improve the quality of life for these kids and improve safety," said Rabbito, who also noted that the beefed-up Medicaid funding that the federal government is offering the states under Obamacare should also bolster the country's mental health network.

But not everybody is so optimistic about the mental health portion of the Obama gun violence plan.

Rice, a clinical psychologist who founded the Guidance Care Clinic, said the most important change that needs to happen here in the Keys is to make it easier for authorities to keep potentially violent people with a mental health history in treatment. That's something that is governed under state law.

He also said that the sums of money Obama has proposed for school safety and improvements to the mental health network are inadequate.

rsilk@keysnews.com

Staff writer Gwen Filosa contributed to this report.

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