Raleigh, N.C. — In the wake of last week's school shooting in Connecticut, lawmakers are being pressed to respond with legislation. WRAL-TV asked the two U.S. Senators and 13 members of the U.S. House who will represent the North Carolina in Congress next year to respond to two questions:
- What measures related to the nation's gun laws might you consider.
- Aside from gun laws, how should the federal government respond. Are there, for example, mental health policies we should pursue.
Most offered responses via e-mail through a spokesman unless noted otherwise. Not all addressed our two questions directly. Those who have been asked for comment but have not yet responded are noted at the bottom of this post.
Sen. Richard Burr, R
“Like the rest of our nation, I remain shocked by the tragic and senseless shooting in Newtown. Events like this are difficult to fathom, but they serve as grim reminders of the fact that evil exists in our society and can enter our communities at the worst places, in the worst times. This horrendous event highlights the need to provide care and treatment for mentally ill and unstable individuals and continue to work to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. As a society, we must embrace a comprehensive approach – including supporting our law enforcement community, teachers, and mental health professionals – to prevent events like this from happening and keep our children safe.”
Sen. Kay Hagan, D
"The news out of Connecticut is shocking and heartbreaking. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families as they struggle to cope with this senseless act that took the lives of too many innocent people.
"As a mother, I know that parents should never have to question the safety of their children when they drop them off at school each morning. As we try to comprehend this overwhelming tragedy, it's important to make sure we have laws in place to prevent something like this from ever happening again. We need a common-sense debate on a comprehensive approach that looks at access to guns, including laws that may have already been on the books, access to mental health care, and violent video games.
"In the coming months I will review any proposals with an open mind, ensuring that they will improve the safety of our communities without restricting the rights of responsible gun owners as guaranteed by the second amendment."
Rep. G. K. Buttefield, D, First District
“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims in Newtown, Connecticut. The young boys and girls who lost their lives far too soon, and the brave teachers who gave their lives to protect their students, were taken from their loved ones in a senseless tragedy. The rise in mass shootings has rightly sparked new dialogue surrounding our nation’s gun laws. I support the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms. However, in these modern times, I believe Congress should enact responsible gun laws that would limit the proliferation of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. I also believe that gun control is only part of the solution. Leaders must also work with mental health professionals and law enforcement to provide appropriate treatment to the mentally-ill and to keep guns out of the hands of those who may use them to inflict harm.”
Rep. Renee Ellmers, R, Second District
"My heart breaks for the victims of this tragedy and the young lives whose bright future has been extinguished by a heinous act of evil. For the sake of our children, our nation, and our security, we must focus on the root cause of such disasters and not the means by which they enact their despicable deeds.
"Our nation was shocked by the horrific events that unfolded in Connecticut on Friday. We were once again reminded that evil exists in our world and that, while human beings can accomplish great and powerful things, they can also be responsible for unspeakable horrors.
"We are still trying to grapple with the unimaginable horrors that continue to take place at the hands of people who have been isolated from society and live in a world of their own terrible delusions. This must continue to remain our mission - to protect our citizens and seek and rectify the root causes of these evil acts, rather than focusing on means by which they are accomplished.
"As a nurse and medical professional, I have seen countless struggles and the miracles of science that bring relief to the suffering. There is no action that will undue this tragedy or bring back the angels who entered the gates of heaven on Friday. We can however work together to ensure that good triumphs over evil and that every precaution is taken to curtail those who wish to do us harm. May God bless the victims of this nightmare and continue to offer hope and guidance as they struggle in the days ahead."
Rep. Walter Jones, R, Third District
"As the funerals begin today for those killed last Friday, Congressman Jones feels that there will be plenty of time to argue the politics and constitutionality of gun laws, but right now we need to stay focused on keeping those affected by this tragedy in our thoughts and prayers." — Jones spokeswoman Catherine Fodor
Rep. David Price, D, Fourth District
Rep. David Price spoke to WRAL-TV on Saturday. He was not asked about mental health issues, but told our reporters that he would favor more gun control laws. The following is from that story:
"It's a time for grieving and mourning and also for some soul searching," said Rep. David Price (D-4th). He represents a swath of voters in the western part of the Triangle from Fuquay-Varina in the south through Orange County to the north, and he is in favor of tougher gun laws.
Price believes those with serious mental illness, history of domestic violence or criminal behavior should not possess a firearm. He also supports re-instituting a ban on assault weapons.
"You just don't keep repeating tragedy after tragedy after tragedy in a democracy, in a country where we pride ourselves in pulling together and solving problems," Price said.
In response to a request for follow up on the mental health question, a spokesman for Price said that he has "long supported robust funding for mental health services. He was a long-time supporter of the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act, which became law in the 110th Congress. The bill requires insurance companies to treat mental health on an equal basis with physical illness, when policies cover both. Rep. Price believes mental health services are an important component of a multi-faceted approach to preventing this kind of tragedy. "
Rep. Vriginia Foxx, R, Fifth District
"As a parent and grandparent, my heart broke when I heard the news of the terrible acts of violence last Friday in Connecticut. Our country feels a weight of sadness for the families of the victims, especially for the parents of the 20 innocent children whose lives were ended on that day. I cannot imagine the depth of their grief.
"Now is a time for prayer and for careful consideration of the questions raised by this horrific crime.
"We all want to protect our children, keep our schools safe, and stop those who are sick and bent on lawlessness before they turn to evil. To that end, treatment and support for individuals and families affected by mental illness must be discussed as well as the factors in our society that foster sociopathic fantasies.
"But in the wake of devastating tragedies, we must not in haste to 'do something' replace necessary deliberation with legislative action ill-equipped to stop the very evil it aims to curtail. Many ideas to limit future tragedies will rightly be brought forth, and of each we must ask, ‘Is it constitutional and will this actually solve the problem?'"
Rep. Howard Coble, R, Sixth District
"The people who commit these crimes are obviously sick," Rep. Howard Coble said during a phone interview. He said that likely responses to the shooting would involved addressing mental health problems, and perhaps more federal funding for mental health programs.
Asked about gun control issues, Coble said "he didn't have an answer" to whether there should be stricter gun laws, but noted that in the past he had resisted imposing more restrictions on firearms ownership. "I'm pretty much inflexible on the issue because I come down on the side of the second amendment," Coble said.
Rep. Mike McIntyre, D, Seventh District
“Our nation grieves and joins in prayer for the victims, families, and Newtown community that have suffered this unthinkable tragedy. Our nation’s schools should be places of learning, excitement, and friendships. This horrific event reminds us all just how precious life is, and that we must do all we can to protect each and every citizen. Our nation needs to have a national dialog to discuss the culture of violence that has become so prevalent on our society and whether we are doing all we can to protect our citizens while also protecting our 2nd Amendment rights. Mental health access and availability are key components of this discussion and how we can make sure those that commit these heinous crimes get the treatment they need. However, now is the time for reflection, remembrance, and recognition of the lives that were lost and the Newtown community that is grieving. Let us join together in prayer for that this holiday season.”
Richard Hudson, R, elected to the Eighth District
"At this time, Congressman-Elect Hudson and his wife are praying for the victims, their families, and the entire Newtown community. He believes we should examine the elements that led to this attack but right now he is observing a period of reflection and praying for the Newtown community’s comfort during this devastating time." — Hudson Spokeswoman Anna Haberlein
Updated: Haberlein later sent a statement from Hudson himself via e-mail:
"Renee and I continue to pray for the families of the victims and the entire Newtown community. This horrific act of violence causes us all to question how and why it happened. It is right that we as a society examine the causes of this violence, including looking at our culture and how we deal with mental illness. The tragedy in Newtown warrants a thoughtful and extensive conversation, not rash decisions that limit our constitutional freedoms. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Newtown community during this devastating time."
Robert Pittenger, R, elected to the Ninth District
"The tragic shootings in Connecticut are heartbreaking and the chilling effect of the violence that has become too prevalent in our culture, including the glorification of violence in media, music, video games and movies," Pittenger said in an e-mail. Asked if he had a specific proposal to address that notion, a spokesman for Pittenger said, "Representative-elect Pittenger understands these are complex issues with no easy answers. He intends to fully explore options to address the problem."
Rep. Patrick McHenry, R, Tenth District
"Congressman McHenry feels that there will be adequate time for policy discussions later, but right now the families and loved ones of those lost in Friday's tragedy are still mourning. Let’s respect the families and give them time to grieve before jumping into heated political debates." — Spokesman Ryan Minto.
Rep. Mel Watt, D, Twelfth District
"I would say first of all that I full support the approach and discussion the president had last night," Rep. Mel Watt said during a phone interview. While he backs tightening gun control laws, the legislative approach needs to be careful for practical reasons. ""The (U.S.) Supreme Court has basically elevated the second amendment to the place where the first amendment is elevated. There are restraints on what we can do. That doesn't mean we can't legislate in this area, there are just practical realities."
Watt added that the recent shooting is not one that would have been prevented by many gun control proposals now under consideration.
"In this instance, there's really not much that you can point to that would have prevented this from happening. The guns were legally purchased in a state that has some of the most stringent gun control laws in the nation," Watt said.
Asked about how he would address mental health concerns raised by the shooting, Watt said that the federal government should pass laws that ensure parity -- equal treatment under health insurance and other programs -- for mental and physical illnesses. Still, he said, it was unclear if any mental health measure could have headed off last week's shootings.
"All of these thing we have supported, and I will continue to support. But if anyone is thinking we can wave a magic wand and this kind of incident can be avoided in the future through legislation, they're looking for a silver lining that doesn't exist," Watt said.
George Holding, R, Thirteenth District
In response to our first question, Holding wrote, "As a prosecutor I saw some terrible crimes and it’s not unusual to ask yourself, Why did this happen? And often, there is no answer. Or no simple answer. Sometimes I think, We may as well ask why Cain murdered Abel. It would be reassuring to believe a government program could cure violence but governments have been trying – and failing – for a long time."
In response to the second question, Holding said, "When tragedies like this happen, it’s natural to want to find a cure – quick. This may be the least popular time to say gun control is not the answer – but it’s not. The important question to answer, if we can, is: Why did this young man commit these murders? Let’s try to find that answer before deciding what to do."
WRAL-TV is waiting for a response from the following lawmakers and lawmakers-elect. We will include them when they come.
- Mark Meadows, Elected R-11th