Political News

GOP senators point to school safety, mental health -- and not gun control -- for Santa Fe response

Posted May 21, 2018 6:13 p.m. EDT

— Just three days after the school shooting claimed 10 lives in Sante Fe, Texas, Republican senators pointed to increasing funding for school safety and other solutions not involving gun legislation to prevent further shootings.

"It is no coincidence that these shootings mostly happen at public schools or soft targets, and the shooters are usually male teenagers who attended those schools," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said on the chamber floor before votes Monday evening. "Can we succeed in making our schools a safe place for mothers and fathers to send their children and where they're confident that everything humanly possible is being done to protect them?"

When asked after his floor remarks about any potential legislation following the shooting, Cornyn -- who is the second-ranking Republican in the Senate -- said they were still figuring out what happened in Santa Fe.

"I don't think we know exactly what happened," he told reporters outside his office Monday. "Other than some 17-year-old boy that nobody predicted would have done something like this took his father's shotgun and pistol and murdered these poor, poor kids. So, I'm not sure we know what legislation we need to pass, although obviously we need to work hard and find ways to stop things like that from happening."

Cornyn said discussions should involve guns, but argued mental health is part of the overall problem.

"Of course it has something to do with guns, but it mainly has something to do with who's pulling the trigger and people with mental health and mental health crises," he said. "People who can't legally purchase firearms and possess them because they're felons or otherwise have a disqualifying record -- there's a lot of things we need to keep looking at."

Cornyn pointed to legislation earlier this year that was included in the $1.3 trillion spending package that incentivizes state and federal authorities to report more data to the country's gun background check system.

In a statement about the shooting on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made no mention of future legislation, and instead thanked first responders who were at the scene.

"Our hearts go out to the families of those killed, to the wounded who continue to battle injuries, to the first responders who leapt into action, and to the Santa Fe community that rallies around them," he said in a statement.

It's not just at the federal level. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has said he's interested in programs that would speed up the background check process and allocate more resources to schools to address mental health issues.

"We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families," Abbott said last week, adding that he's working with members of the Texas legislature as well as holding roundtables this week on the issue. "It's time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again in history of the state of Texas."

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said in Washington he sided with how state officials want to handle the shooting, referencing Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick blaming video games, the entertainment industry and too many exit doors in the schools for the shooting.

"There are many specific proposals, including increasing funding for armed police officers to be on campuses, installing metal detectors at schools, redesigning school campuses so that there are only one or two entrance and exit points, rather than multiple ways in and out, and allowing teachers who are trained and capable to be armed to potentially help defend the students," Cruz said. "All of these are ideas that were suggested to me directly by students in Santa Fe."

When asked about whether there could be legislation penalizing the lawful owner of a firearm when their children gain access to it, the Senate's No. 3 Republican John Thune said he doesn't know how that would be enforced.

"I think most parents do a pretty good job of making sure they are protecting their firearms," Thune said Monday. "I don't know how you mandate that."

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy -- whose state was devastated by the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 27 dead -- continued to press that the solution for school shootings is gun control legislation.

"Republicans have made it very clear 100 people could die in a mass shooting and they wouldn't take up (gun) legislation," he said. "I'm interested on working on mental health and working on school safety, but those are all efforts by Republicans to distract from the real problem which is gun laws."