In the wake of recent mass shootings, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney said that states are the most likely place for effective new gun laws, but he is likely to get behind federal legislation requiring universal background checks for gun purchasers.
“We need to improve our background check capability, and we need to make bump stocks illegal,” Romney told The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board on Wednesday. Bump stocks are devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly, and were used by the gunman in Las Vegas 2017 massacre that left 58 dead and hundreds wounded.
Romney, a Republican, said that he was “inclined to support” a proposal by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that calls for universal background checks on buyers in all commercial gun sales. Toomey, Romney said, had assured him that the bill addressed concerns it could unduly burden rural gun purchasers who might have to travel to secure a background check.
Beyond that, Romney said, he doesn’t see Congress doing more on legislation aimed at trying to curb gun violence, but that states could and should pick up the slack.
“The reality is, getting something through Washington will be almost impossible, if not impossible, because the nation is so divided on this issue,” the first-term senator and two-time presidential candidate said.
Meanwhile, with schools beginning a new year, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday that more should be done to ensure the safety of students and educators, and the time for action at the state level may be here.
“All things ought to be on the table for discussion,” he said during his monthly news conference on KUED. And more than that, “We need to take some action.”
Some of the possibilities he said should be discussed are passing better background checks and adopting “red-flag” laws, allowing someone’s weapons to be confiscated under court order if the gun owners deemed a danger to themselves or others.
“All those things are going to be at the heart of the discussion,” the governor said, without indicating specifically whether he now supports them.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he plans to introduce a bill based on recent legislation in New Mexico that imposed universal background checks for gun purchases.
Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, said he again plans to sponsor a red-flag bill. Last year, such a bill failed to gain even a committee hearing.
"There is a sense of frustration about ‘why is it happening and what can we do to prevent it,’ " the governor said of mass shootings. “I don’t know if there is any easy answer.”
He said people also should be looking at other causes and possible ways to prevent the shootings.
“I know some think this is kind of silly … but what kind of responsibility does Hollywood have for some of the violence that they portray and glorify in the movies and our video games?” he asked. “They desensitize our young people as they play those games with the blood and gore that come on the screen.”
Herbert likened that to what he call desensitization training he received in the military, where he shot an M16 rifle at silhouettes of people.
“They were trying to get me so I can pull a trigger and kill another human being,” he said.
“I think all those things ought to be talked about and discussed in an open and frank manner and see if we can’t change the culture in which we seem to find ourselves in today, where violence is just an acceptable part of life.”
Herbert said Utah has ramped up efforts to improve school safety after the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. He said all 41 school districts in Utah have since reported steps they are taking, and what else they would like to see.
He said that includes creating only one controlled point of entry to each school and its school grounds, and more resource officers patrolling halls.
He also said that last year, $26 million was appropriated for more school counseling that is “designed to help with the mental health” issues that could escalate into violence.
As school begins, the governor also urged students to download the “safeut app” on their phones to warn counselors and law enforcement if they see people talking about violence or suicide.
“Parents have a right to expect a safe environment when they send their kids off to school,” Herbert said. “And teachers have a right to expect a safe environment to teach in.”