SALT LAKE CITY — Not enough is being done to keep the nation's children safe, several Utah legislators and congressmen said Monday, agreeing with President Barack Obama that change is needed.
But while they supported the president's call to look at what can be done to prevent another tragedy like the Connecticut elementary School shooting that left 27 dead, none of the Utah politicians were ready with specifics.
“This particular case strikes an emotional cord unlike any other," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. "I want to be the one who's not closed-minded on this issue.”
Chaffetz, who talked Sunday on ABC's “This Week” about the need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, said he doesn't believe that means changing federal law, but he's willing to reconsider.
“I worry about people lacking the mental capacity to make rational decisions having a gun. I'm open to looking at that,” he said. “But I think most of these issues are going to be solved at a much more local level.”
Chaffetz said it was “outrageous” that the alleged killer in the Connecticut shootings was apparently able to access his mother's guns. He said he has a concealed weapons permit but secures his Glock 23 pistol in a locked gun safe.
“There has to be some basic gun safety. Apparently the owner of these guns was not keeping them in a controlled manner. I don't know how you legislate that. It's just common sense,” he said. “We have to find the right balance.”
Rep.-elect Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said in a statement that he's ready to discuss “ways that we may avoid such terrible events at an appropriate time in the future.” But, he said, he doesn't “believe good policy is made in the emotion of such a moment.”
A spokeswoman for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he wanted to wait to discuss the issue until next week, out of respect for the victims and their families.
Utah Senate President-elect Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said while it is time to start talking about making children safer, it's too soon to offer solutions.
“It's obvious we're not doing everything we can,” Niederhauser said. “It's a great question that the president has raised, and we ought to have a look at it and see where the vulnerabilities are and patch those.”
The issue could be raised as soon as Wednesday, he said, at a Senate GOP caucus called to set budget priorities for the 2013 Legislature, set to start in late January.
Niederhauser said lawmakers will need to know more about the Connecticut shooting before determining if more gun control is needed or if the focus should be on dealing with the mentally ill.
But he said even the conservative Utah Legislature, which has long opposed gun control, would be willing to talk about new restrictions if they appear necessary.
“I think we would be willing to discuss those things,” Niederhauser said. “It's premature to talk about specifics as far as I'm concerned. I'm not sure what the real breakdown was there. Was it at the school? Was it a mental illness situation that was unchecked?”
Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement Monday that his office, in partnership with the attorney general and the state superintendent, will evaluate school safety and security protocols.
While the investigation continues, “as a start, what is clear is this nation needs to reassess how we address mental health, and particularly access to weapons by the mentally ill,” Herbert said.
Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, said the focus needs to be on making sure the mentally ill receive the care they need, not on gun control.
“All of these laws are not going to stop the bad guy,” Oda said. “What we've got to stay away from is emotional reasons for taking action, and taking action that's not really going to solve anything, and that includes banning guns.”
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, said she and others who would like to see tighter controls on guns feel intimidated.
“I'm fearful for my personal safety, and that's a sad thing to say,” Moss said. “It's not easy to have a conversation up there. It's either you're for guns or against guns. That's absurd. There are all kinds of things in between we should be talking about.”
Contributing: Richard Piatt
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