The City of St. Louis has a new police chief -- and he says gun control will be one of his top priorities.
Officially sworn in on Thursday night, Police Chief Sam Dotson tells Daily RFT that the time has come to crack down on illegal handguns.
"As a society, we have to be serious about gun control," Dotson says.
And what does he think of the many pro-gun proposals floating around in the Missouri legislature?
"I understand the Second Amendment, and I understand everyone's right, or their belief that they have a right to bear arms," he says. "It doesn't give them a right to use that weapon."
We spoke with Dotson after he made a short speech at a recent Martin Luther King Jr. event. Dotson has since been officially sworn in, replacing Chief Dan Isom, who took a job with the University of Missouri St. Louis.
In the last two months, there have been increasingly contentious debates around guns locally and nationally, in the wake of the tragic elementary school shooting in Connecticut that left twenty children dead in December.
In Missouri, there has been a wide range of anti-gun control legislation introduced, notably a proposal from Representative Casey Guernsey to block any federal measures.
Meanwhile in the City of St. Louis, a January 15 shooting at the Stevens Institute of Business and Arts became one of the first major incidents of gun violence Dotson had to respond to.
"That's the call that no police chief ever wants to hear -- that there's an active shooter inside a school," says Dotson.
The suspect Sean Johnson was a student and the victim, Greg Elsenrath, the school's financial aid director, is expected to make a full recovery.
"The problem is illegal guns in the hands of criminals," says Dotson. "The problem is all too often a legal gun becomes an illegal gun, because it's taken.... It's stolen from a car. And as a police chief, more guns is never the answer."
Continue for more of our interview with Police Chief Sam Dotson.
In addition to better targeting illegal guns, Dotson says that another priority is "finding mental health services for people with mental issues and keeping guns out out of their hands."
He points out that in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, he met with school officials from across the city.
None of them want to see an increase in weapons, Dotson says.
"In that 90-minute roundtable, not once did they ask for more guns," he says. "'Teach us how to shelter employees. Teach us...evacuation plans. Help us secure our building....' Those are the things we need to focus on."
He continues, "Arming more people is never the answer, because I send officers out everyday to life-threatening situations."
In addition to increased gun control, Dotson says he wants to see stiffer sentences and penalties for those who illegally fire guns in the city.
In response to proposals to better protect gun owners and block gun control measures, he points out that gun violence is an epidemic. "You have to look at the systemic problems in urban cores -- St. Louis, Kansas City. And more guns in those environments never is the answer. So as people around the state...make decisions, they are making decisions about their situation. They have to look at the entire state."
He says to those lawmakers, "Come ride with us in the city and see exactly how prolific the availability of illegal handguns are."
This will remain a number one priority, he adds. "Everytime I get a chance to talk about it, I will."
More from our Crime archive: "Missouri Has Highest Rate of Black Homicide in the Nation -- For Third Year in a Row"
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