PROVO — States — not the federal government — are the best places to find solutions for school violence like the deadly shooting in Florida earlier this week, Mitt Romney said Friday night.
“I haven’t seen any federal legislation that would prevent these attacks,” he said, though he noted that he likes Sen. Orrin Hatch’s proposal for an enhanced background check program.
Passing legislation that might "make you feel a little better but that doesn't really do anything is not something I favor," he told reporters afterward.
State and local governments could consider a wide array of options, including police patrols, intervention teams and “age and psychological restrictions” on gun purchases, Romney said in a speech at the Utah County Republican Party Lincoln Day dinner.
Romney wouldn't say afterward whether states should go so far as to ban assault weapons, telling reporters he would let states make their own decisions.
In an interview earlier Friday, though, he said it makes sense to regulate bump stocks, an accessory the Las Vegas gunman used last fall to modify his rifles to fire like automatic weapons.
"They don't deserve to be generally available," he said.
Romney's presence at the Utah County event drew a large contingent of local and national media, and C-Span live-streamed his speech. More than 600 people attended the fundraiser, where tables went for as much $5,000.
Romney had a friendly audience — he received a standing ovation before he started speaking — for his first speech as a candidate since launching his campaign earlier Friday to replace the retiring Hatch. Utah County is the one of the reddest areas in the country.
But how well he appeals to the most conservative of Republicans remains to be seen.
"I might be the most conservative person in Utah to support Mitt,” said former GOP state lawmaker David Lifferth, sporting a 2002 Winter Games tie. "I know a few people who are more conservative than I am, and I’m not sure where they will land yet."
Lifferth, of Eagle Mountain, said it’s too early to know how GOP delegates, who lean further right than the Utah electorate in general, feel about Romney. Delegates will choose party nominees at the state GOP convention in April
Romney said he will participate in the convention but is also gathering signatures to ensure a place on the primary election ballot.
The former Massachusetts governor also has to overcome the perception that he swooped into Utah to buy a seat in the Senate.
Mindi and Tim Turgoose, of Riverton, showed up at the Utah County GOP dinner wearing “Tim Jimenez for U.S. Senate" badges. Jimenez, of Tooele, is an environmental engineer and father of six children whose wife doesn't work outside the home.
“What I really like about Tim and where he’s coming from is he’s one of us and he didn’t grow up in a prestigious background,” Mindi Turgoose said. “Certainly, nothing fancy. He’s more relatable and I think that's what Utahns like."
Tim Turgoose said Romney doesn’t know Utah as well as someone who has lived and worked in the state "as a regular Joe."
"Mitt’s kind of a Utah boy,” he said.
Romney said he has lived in Utah for a total of 10 years, as a BYU student, head of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, and as what he called a permanent resident since 2014.52 comments on this story
Romney used most of his speech to answer questions local Republicans submitted ahead of time, including what it was like to run for president and if he really wants to be Utah's junior senator.
"Well, yes," he said to the latter.
Romney said like himself, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is a deficit hawk.
"I hope to be your junior senator, Sen. Lee, and we’ll work together on that," he said, acknowledging Lee in the crowd.
Romney also listed 10 "Utah-specific challenges" he would tackle, including improving education, attracting jobs to the state, lowering health insurance costs and having a greater voice on public lands.