Romney meets privately with Utah legislators, tells reporters gun safety issues — including whether to arm teachers — are up to states

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mitt Romney speaks with reporters at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018.

Mitt Romney continued his call for states — rather than Congress — to address gun control in the wake of another mass shooting, and instead said he supports work being done to increase the amount of information that’s shared with a federal background check database.

He met with Utah Republican lawmakers behind closed doors at the state Capitol — secrecy he said he opposes — before talking with reporters about focusing on school security measures, guns and federal immigration policies.

Romney said he supports legislation led by Sen. Orrin Hatch to get states to add more information to a national background check system that many states use to ensure people who are trying to buy guns aren’t prohibited from doing so.

“I do believe that we have to substantially enhance our background check capacity and accuracy,” Romney said. “I think you’ll see a coalescing of viewpoints in doing a much better job on background checks.”

Efforts to beef up the information that’s provided to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has found some bipartisan support.

Romney’s approach to background checks contrasts with that of Jenny Wilson, his Democratic opponent for Hatch’s seat, who called for requiring background checks for guns bought at expos and online, where some sellers aren’t required to conduct the checks. She also called for a ban on assault weapons.

Romney spent much of his time talking generally about enhancing school safety.

“The real issue, I think, is broader than gun control itself,” Romney told reporters. “It’s how do we make sure that our kids are safe in their schools.”

State and national Republicans have called for focusing on school security measures in the wake of a shooting that left 17 people dead in a Florida high school this month.

Hatch has proposed giving grants through the Department of Justice for programs aimed at beefing up school security, including development of anonymous reporting apps and paying for locks, stronger entryways and other general improvements.

Romney declined to say whether he supports arming teachers with guns to protect children.

“In our state, some have concealed-carry permits and are able to provide security in their classroom,” he said. “Whether we expand that or leave that as it is will be something the Legislature will consider.”

Romney also said he’d be a “hawk on illegal immigration but [has] an open hand and [encourages] legal immigration, particularly for those that have the merit and the skills that we need in our country.”

He said he didn’t support the creation of the program that allowed legal residency for young immigrants whose parents brought them into the country illegally, but that the country had made commitments that should be kept.

“We have to find a way to honor the commitments that have been made to these people to allow them to remain legally in the country.”