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Penzone: US must talk gun ownership after Florida school shooting

Students released from a lockdown walk away following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

LISTEN: Paul Penzone, Maricopa County Sheriff

PHOENIX — Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said it was time the United States begins to have conversations about gun ownership in the wake of a Florida school shooting that left at least 17 dead.

“At some point in time, we need to have serious conversations about responsible gun ownership,” he told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Thursday.

“You know, how can a semi-automatic assault weapon get in the hands of a 19-year-old kid who goes in and destroys 17 families and an entire community?”

The sheriff was quick to say he did not want to make a statement about constitutional rights, but argued that the nation’s priorities may be in the wrong place.

Related: At least 17 killed in Florida high school shooting

“This is not some kind of statement regarding the Second Amendment,” he said. “It’s a statement regarding responsible gun ownership and being a society that cares more about our kids than being inconvenienced.”

Penzone said Americans typically take a reactionary stance when it comes to gun violence.

“We are responding to mitigate, not prevent, so we become a society that’s reactionary when it comes to the safety of our children and it’s unacceptable,” he said.

He criticized the nation’s leaders for not acting on gun ownership because they let other matters get in the way.

“It needs to be more sophisticated than (see something, say something),” he said. “We’re a democracy but in many ways, with elected officials, it’s more of a hypocrisy.”

Related: Florida school shooting suspect charged with murder

Penzone gave the example of bump stocks —  a device designed to greatly increase the fire rate of semi-automatic weapons — and several attempts to ban them in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting. A motion to ask lawmakers to pass restrictions on the devices was passed in Phoenix but has not gone anywhere at the state level.

“In the moment, we get traumatized and, in the moment, we get upset and then time passes and we dismiss it,” he said. “We don’t act. We fail to act because politics gets in the way.”

The sheriff said conversations about responsible gun ownership won’t prevent every crime, but it’s a step.

“Can we ever eliminate violence? Absolutely not,” he said. “It’s sad to say, but no. But that doesn’t mean we can take steps to protect our children and be more proactive on this issue.”

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