The Hidalgo County sheriff said his office’s free homeowner firearms safety course this month takes on added importance amid a disturbing crime trend in the county and the nation’s recent conversation on gun control, the sheriff said.
Sheriff Lupe Treviño said he does not support an assault weapons ban. Instead, he said he believes in comprehensive gun control reform that lets firearm owners protect themselves.
Last month, the Sheriff’s Office investigated two armed home invasions in Mercedes that prompted the assembly of a special task force, while at least five aggravated robberies also occurred in a little more than a week.
“What happens now is it gives an added importance because of the uptick that we’ve had in aggravated robberies and home invasions,” Treviño said of the firearms safety course. “We would love to have the entire citizenry go through it because, look, you can’t have a cop on every corner.”
Sheriff’s Office rangemaster Fred Perez said the next course is scheduled for Feb. 20 and 21 at the academy, 715 El Cibolo Road in Edinburg. Participants must be Hidalgo County residents age 21 and over to apply and submit to a criminal history check. Students must also bring their own weapon and ammunition. The course is not a concealed handgun licensing class.
Treviño said his office has hosted the course mostly on a monthly basis beginning about three years ago, graduating hundreds of participants.
The first day students hear from an assistant Hidalgo County District Attorney and deputies regarding the legalities of self-defense, including the state’s castle law — which allows the use deadly force without retreat in a home, car or workplace. They also learn from deputies, who are volunteering their time, the firearm’s mechanics and how to safely operate a gun. The second day instructors oversee students at the gun range in a live fire self-defense course.
“I wanted to do everything that I could to level the playing between the bad guys and the good guys,” Treviño said of the course.
The sheriff said recent talk of gun control has concerned him.
“It is my duty under the oath that I took, to uphold United States Constitution, which includes the Second Amendment: the right to bear arms,” he said. “I can tell you gun control alone is not the solution. You need to have more comprehensive approach.”
He supports background checks at gun shows and stronger access to mental health records in relation to gun purchases. He also said it’s crucial the vigorous prosecution of crimes involving guns, which carry enhanced penalties, continue.
Still, homeowners with firearms are able to protect themselves, he said, and that’s something that could give deputies enough time to reach them to help.
“Banning assault rifles and taking them away from the good guys only leaves the bad guys with guns,” he said. “We as police officers cannot be everywhere all the time. It’s impossible. There’s not enough of us.”
However, Treviño warned, gun owners who claimed self-defense have been charged with murder in some cases. There must always be evidence of a threat to life, property or a third party that justifies deadly force, he said.
Despite Hidalgo County’s location on the border, that’s one factor that doesn’t play into a homeowner’s need to be armed, he said.
Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, is more dangerous when comparing crimes on a per capita basis, he said. However, FBI data for 2011 shows the following: Hidalgo County had 20 cases of homicide or non-negligent manslaughter versus 12 in Bexar County, while there were also 525 violent crimes here compared with 496 there.
“Just because we live on the border doesn’t necessarily mean it’s super important because some illegal (immigrant) is going to kick your door down and steal your Rolex and rape you,” the sheriff said of the firearms course. “That’s not true. It’s a matter of leveling playing field where you live. Just like bad guys have rights, good guys have rights, too.”
Jacqueline Armendariz covers law enforcement, courts and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4434.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Gun safety course
WHEN: Feb. 20 and 21
WHERE: Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office academy, 715 El Cibolo Road in Edinburg
TO APPLY: For an application, email email@example.com or stop by the Sheriff’s Office, 701 El Cibolo Road in Edinburg, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
CONTACT: Call (956) 381-7979 for more information