Sheriff touts mental health reforms

BLUE EARTH – The number of people obtaining permits to buy or carry firearms is up in Faribault County since the Sandy Hook school shooting on Dec. 14, and that’s just fine with Sheriff Mike Gormley.

“The ones that come and get the permits aren’t the ones we’re worried about and aren’t the ones breaking the law,” he said.

Faribault County issued 79 new permits to carry and 17 renewals in 2012. From Dec. 14, 2012, to Feb. 11, the county already has issued 59 new permits and four renewals.

The county also issued 121 permits to purchase in 2012. From Dec. 14, 2012, to Feb. 11, the county already has issued 52.

Permits to purchase also may be obtained from city police departments. For instance, Winnebago police issued 12 permits to purchase in 2012. From Dec. 14 to Feb. 11, the department issued seven.

Permits are required for handguns and assault-style rifles, not for regular rifles, such as a .22 or shotgun, Gormley said. He said permits are just to keep track of numbers.

Gormley knows a gun is not needed to kill someone and does not believe gun control is the main issue.

“If somebody’s got it in their mind to break the law or harm somebody, they will find a way,” he said.

He has investigated five murders since 1998 – only two involved firearms and neither was an assault weapon. Of the two murders he has handled since he became sheriff in 2007, neither involved a firearm.

“I think a lot of this gun control stuff has been politically motivated,” he said.

Tragedies are born elsewhere, Gormley believes.

“If you go back and research a lot of mass killings, mental health is an underlying factor,” he said.

The sheriff’s department handles calls at least once a week that Gormley believes include a mental health aspect. This can take different forms, including people who are suicidal, some who call and request help, others who display behavior that appears to be out of line with the situation, such as yelling incoherently. But the behavior doesn’t necessarily mean a person can legally be defined as having a mental health issue, noted Chief Deputy Scott Adams.

“They have to create an immediate danger for themselves or someone else,” he said.

Gormley said his department has a difficult time finding placement options for those with mental issues. There’s a facility in Mankato, but it is usually full, Adams added.

“Just from what I see locally, these ones who are struggling are not getting help,” Gormley said. “I talk to a lot of families and it’s tough on everybody.”

He would like to see some changes.

“First of all, change the standard of who needs help,” he insisted.

He doesn’t like having to wait until a person injures himself or someone else.

“I would prefer to see some steps to intervene and provide assistance to those with mental health issues at an earlier stage,” Gormley said

He is suggesting that it start earlier in life.

“If we increase that availability, you can identify the factors with kids in elementary and address the facts before they get out of hand,” he said. “Hopefully, some of that will be addressed nationally.”

Adams said analyzing school shooters reveals the root causes come back to bullying and mental health issues.

“If we started addressing some of these societal issues that push these people toward these incidents, maybe we’ll be better off,” Gormley said.