LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3) -- An alarming number of homicides so far this year in the Las Vegas valley has the attention of Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie.
He welcomes the renewed discussion about gun violence in America and how to combat it, but thinks the main focus so far misses the mark.
Mass shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in December gave the push for gun control in America serious new momentum.
That also led to a surge in sales at local gun stores to customers worried that new restrictions may be coming.
There have been many examples of gun owners who were comfortable enough with their weapons to use them in self-defense, like the 72-year-old man who shot an intruder in his home on Feb. 4.
Gillespie says he supports expanding background checks for people who want to buy a gun to include private sales that aren't covered now, like the weapons that change hands at gun shows.
As a member of the Major Cities Chief's Association, Gillespie was invited to the White House recently to talk about gun control.
“You know, the president and vice president didn't come in and try to convince us of what they were doing,” Gillespie said. “They asked us what we thought, and we were able to give insight collectively as a group about violence in America.”
Since military-styled assault rifles have been used in several high-profile mass shootings, there's a new push to ban them, along with high capacity magazines. A bill is on its way to Congress, spearheaded by California Sen. Diane Feinstein.
As an organization, the major cities chief's association officially supports the Feinstein ban, but as a member, Gillespie does not. He knows first-hand that handguns -- not assault rifles -- are used in the vast majority of shootings.
“We get caught up in this debate about assault weapons ban or not,” he said. “And, really, that's keeping us from dealing with the big issue that we have, and that's violence, this gun violence in America.”
And the guns used in that violence are changing. When Gillespie joined Metro as an officer in 1980, criminals tended to carry cheap, often damaged, small-caliber handguns, which were unreliable and not very accurate.
These days, the bad guys carry the same firepower – or better -- as the good guys. And that's not the only thing that's changed.
“The weaponry that they have access to, No. 1,” Gillespie said. “No. 2, their willingness to confront authority, which wasn't always the case back when I started in policing. We've seen that change over the years, so policing is a dangerous profession, it's a dangerous job.”
Some of the most dangerous situations involve suspects with mental health problems.
Nevada has cut funding to its mental health system by 28 percent over the past four years, so many people who need help wind up in emergency rooms or jail cells.
“On any given day, 19 to 20 percent of our inmates are in psychiatric need,” Gillespie said. “Average stay is 12 days. We provide them the care.
“Once they leave, there's really no follow up to that. So when we're talking about crime in America and violence in America, we hope (mental health) would be part of the discussion.”
Gillespie says he does support stricter penalties for anyone who uses a gun in the commission of a crime. On that assault weapons ban, he thinks limits on magazine size makes sense.
He says forcing an active shooter to stop and re-load provides a window of opportunity to stop that person.