Digital Version of November/December 2014 Print Edition
Senator Collins supports new look at gun and mental health laws in wake of rampage
As the investigation into the Newtown, CT, school shootings progresses, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said the country should take a careful look at gun laws, but it should also be done alongside a closer examination of mental health laws.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said in a Dec. 17 statement that she was “sickened by the horrific tragedy” at the Sandy Hook elementary school near Newtown in which a gunman armed with a semi-automatic military-style rifle and two handguns killed 20 children, six adults and himself. She offered condolences for the “children whose lives were cut short, for their loved ones who are enduring unspeakable grief, and for the entire community, which is struggling to comprehend this shocking act of violence.”
The investigation into how the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, obtained his weapons and his motive in the attack is ongoing. Law enforcement agencies have said the guns Lanza used belonged to his mother Nancy Lanza, who was also killed by her son in the home they shared before he left to attack the school.
"This is yet another mass murder that our country has experienced far too often,” said Collins in her statement.
Since the shootings, a number of Democratic congressmen, including some previous gun rights supporters, like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner have called for stricter gun laws. Collins’ colleague and chairman of the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has called for a renewal of the ban on assault weapons, as well as the formation of a panel to look at violence in video games and movies as a possible contributing factor in mass attacks.
Republicans have been generally less talkative about possible gun control legislation and Collins drew a finer line in supporting it. "While denying the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens won't change the behavior of those intent on using firearms for criminal purposes, I wholeheartedly agree that we must examine what can be done to help prevent gun violence,” she said. “I grew up in northern Maine where responsible gun ownership is part of the heritage of many families, and Connecticut has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country,” she said.
An examination of mental health laws should also be undertaken concurrently, she said.
“Nevertheless, we should examine, among other issues, whether states are reporting data on mentally ill individuals found to be a danger to themselves or others to the national background check database designed to prevent gun purchases by such individuals.”
Colllins said she has voted for instant background checks to prevent criminals and those with serious mental illness from buying guns and supported the extension of the ban on assault weapons when that law expired in 2004.
"As was the case in the Connecticut, Colorado, and Arizona shootings, mental illness is a salient factor in many of these tragedies,” she said. “We must also have a national dialogue about mental illness and determine how we as a society can better identify and care for troubled individuals who pose a threat to themselves and others. We should also take a deeper look at the possible role of the glorification of violence in our media while at the same time respecting First Amendment rights."