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Deadly gun violence in South Florida: Law enforcement, gun shop owners and everyday citizens weigh-in

'It’s a sad reflection of society today,' said Sheriff Noel E. Stephen
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Posted at 6:14 PM, Jun 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 18:21:17-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The topic of gun violence has made both national and local headlines over the last week. Ten cities saw mass shootings and closer to home fatal gun violence happened on an interstate and at a local grocery store.

It has a lot of people asking — is the focus on gun violence the result of more people emerging following the pandemic? Or is it something deeper?

Candace Stephens’ can’t comprehend the double fatal shooting at the Royal Palm Beach Publix on June 10 nor the deadly drive-by near Boynton Beach on Interstate 95 on June 14.

”If you can’t even do a normal thing — it’s totally unsafe to me,” Stephens said. “Nobody should be carrying a gun except for the police.”

But WPTV found solutions like root causes vary.

”I think it’s a mental health and anger problem,” said Egypt Iskander.

Even gun shop owners believe mental health is pushing the wave of violence.

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”Education brings culture,” said Alex Shkop, Guns and Range Training Center owner. ”People need to recognize if somebody works next to you and you know they have something going on with them — you can’t just look away because it’s a ticking time bomb.”

Shkop also said he isn’t seeing or training the number of people he did at the start of the pandemic.

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”We literally had empty shelves. Maybe six guns left in the store,” he said. “We have a mental health issue. We have people that are unstable and they just kind of fall through the crack constantly. But if you take the gun away — they’ll use the pressure cooker. You can’t take the pressure cooker away because we need it. But then you have the kitchen knife. Can you take the kitchen knife away?”

Today, Shkop like his son, Alan is unsettled by the number of politicized solutions and limited focus on mental health.

”They’re going to end up hurting themselves or someone else,” said Alan Shkop.

Last week Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw stressed the importance of citizens reporting.

”That’s why I have a behavioral sciences unit to be able to stop these types of things,” Bradshaw said. “We have the Red Flag law where we can take the firearm once we find the people.”

WPTV reached out to every sheriff’s office in our region about both their numbers and new initiatives to curb gun violence.

The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office points out there have been 17 incidents where a gun was used in the commission of a crime; compared to 19 in 2019 and 53 in 2020.

In Martin County, the sheriff’s office said there’s only been one domestic-related fatal shooting in 2021. Last year, there were three gun-related deaths and two in 2019.

And according to the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, there were 19 incidents last year and nine so far this year.

In a statement, Sheriff Noel E. Stephen said, “It’s a sad reflection of society today but there are more burglaries and thefts that are occurring as people are defending their property. In addition, a majority of our shootings are involving more people involved in illegal and illicit activities.”

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