Oak Creek mayor speaks with president about gun violence

Scaffidi lays out ideas in interview with South NOW

Oak Creek Mayor Stephen Scaffidi

Oak Creek Mayor Stephen Scaffidi Photo By C.T. Kruger

Jan. 22, 2013

Oak Creek - The city is in a club that no one wants to be in: It is one of several American communities that had a mass shooting take place in it in 2012. Being a part of this club, Oak Creek Mayor Stephen Scaffidi was invited to speak with President Obama and Vice President Biden on gun issues while he visited Washington D.C. to attend a Mayor's Conference.

Scaffidi laid out his ideas for how cities should deal with gun violence in a recent NOW interview.

NOW: How was your trip and what did you learn from it?

Scaffidi: The biggest thing I've learned being with 300 mayors from large cities, small cities and middle sized cities is that a lot of what's going on nationally can be driven by local governments and municipalities. I'm learning a lot about economic development, best practices, how cities deal with things like pensions, issues with their employees and things like garbage. All basic stuff like what we deal with here today.

The gun meeting was a very small part of it. The reason why I went was because the president invited me because I was one of the mayors who had a mass shooting last year. I was with four other mayors, from Newtown (Conn.), Plattsburg (Va.) and others. We were invited to listen to the president and vice president's presentation on violence and got to meet with them afterward to talk about some of the proposals. That was a separate thing that happened very quickly and wasn't really related to the conference of mayors.

NOW: What are your thoughts on Obama's proposals and where do you stand on gun safety as a gun owner?

Scaffidi: I took the proposals seriously. The thing that I like about it was that it starts a discussion that has to happen. Frankly this almost weekly occurrence of violence across the country makes you have to come up with some ideas and things that work. Not everything the president says is right and not everything the president says is wrong. At some point you have to find a solution. As a country we wouldn't throw up our hands and give up on any other problems. Why would we do it on this? For me it's a good starting point and obviously it's going to be up to congress to take action. There are parts that I think work.

To me, gun safety is an easy one. Gun safety to me is know where your weapon is, lock it in your home and keep your ammunition stored safely. There isn't any disagreement on that. There are tougher ones like high capacity clips. Those are things that will be looked at more when they get to congress.

If you give up solving a problem, to me, it's lazy. You have to be aggressive and intelligent enough to figure it out. As a country we should be able to do that whether it's right or left.

NOW: How has the attention you and the city of Oak Creek received in the wake of the shooting affected your thoughts on gun violence and safety?

Scaffidi: Well it makes me especially attuned to it because it happened here. When an event like a shooting happens somewhere else, I get a phone call asking me what I think about it. I don't want to get those phone calls. That's not something that I want to have happen every week. I'm willing to step up and do what it takes and I freely admit I don't have all the answers.

For me it's all about the discussion and if we can play a role, people tend to listen. I have experience with a shooting. People acknowledge that and that's probably one of the biggest reasons why I was invited to the white house. I have that specific knowledge. I'm a member of a club that's not very big and not a good club to be in, but it makes us relative to the discussion.

NOW: From a local perspective, what are your thoughts on security at buildings, schools and churches? What are your thoughts on the NRA's proposal to have armed guards at schools?

Scaffidi: One of the things we offered up at our forum last week was that our law enforcement community and our police department is already willing to assess the safety of buildings. We do it now. I would encourage all of our places of worship or any building that would like to have the police go out and see if there is something they can do improve their safety and security of their building do that. That's the role of public safety and that's the role of the police department, to make sure that people feel safe, that they're not threatened and oftentimes they can give them common sense goals they can do that don't cost a lot of money to make the building safe. That's something we do and we'll continue to do and I know Chief (John) Edwards is really committed to that. He mentioned at the forum that we're going to keep the momentum going on that. If our buildings are safe and secure, hopefully, there's no guarantees, but hopefully we won't have any instances like that (shooting) in the future.

We essentially already have armed police officers in the schools. We have two armed security resource officers in the high school. For us, that's not anything new. If anything, that doesn't really impact us. I think that the SROs provide a nice resource for the school safety but that they also establish a link between the kids that go to school and law enforcement.

NOW: Where do you see the national and local conversation heading? Is this solely a gun ownership discussion?

Scaffidi: I think after a period of heavy partisanship, something will be agreed upon. What that looks like, I think it's way too early to tell. There were a lot of proposals that the president and vice president put out there and there is a lot to digest. I think the vice president, he spoke to our mayors conference, he said if it saves one life, it's something worth doing. If there are some aspects of any of those plans that can make someone safer, then we should do them.

We have to respect the second amendment because it is one of the guiding principles to our country and understand that there are some limitations already. You can't get onto an airplane with a gun. We don't let people drive tanks around. You have to be cognizant that there already are limitations. Maybe some things need to be tweaked if it makes us all safer.

That's why we took the aspect that we did on the community forum. It's not one thing, it's many things. We've underfunded mental health for some time. I've been reached out by people in our community in Oak Creek saying they need some help. That's why we provided some resources for them like numbers to IMPACT 2-1-1 to make a difference with their family. In actual conversations I've had, people have reached out and asked for help with resources. That's a big part of that. I think that was part of the president's and vice president's proposal is that we have to do a better job in making sure that people that buy guns should be able to buy guns. If they have mental health issues or other restrictions in place like felonies, to make sure that the process of buying guns for those people is as difficult as possible.

Enforcement is a big part of that. I agree with the NRA that enforcement is huge. We have to enforce the laws we already have to make sure that people aren't getting away with buying guns illegally or trafficking guns. Those laws are in many cases already there, we just have to enforce them.

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