By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune staff writer
Following the mass shootings in Colorado and Connecticut last year, Rep. Susan Brooks believes the focus of gun control legislation should be keeping weapons away from the mentally ill.
Her position on legislation being drafted in the U.S. Senate is markedly different from that of Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th District.
“There are basically eight senators thinking about stricter background checks to obtain a weapon,” Rokita said. “There are a lot of members of the House that aren’t going to budge on weakening the Second Amendment rights.
“The Constitution manifested our God-given right to protect ourselves from each other and the government,” he continued. “This is not about hunting.”
Rokita said he will listen to what is being proposed but will not vote for a measure that wouldn’t have helped the children in the school shooting in Newtown.
Brooks, R-5th District, said she supports the Second Amendment and has been involved in combating gun violence since starting her public service career in Indianapolis and while serving as the U.S. Attorney for Indiana.
“After Newtown, the focus is properly on what we can do to tighten background checks to insure the mentally ill don’t have access to weapons,” Brooks said. “I think that is the right focus because that is what most of the mass shootings have involved. They have involved the mentally ill.”
Brooks said she has talked to people in the mental health community and related to them that this is an opportunity to educate the American people about the issues facing the mentally ill.
“I’m anxious to see what legislation comes from the Senate,” she said. “Most of my constituents are interested in doing tightening up on background checks, especially when it comes to the mentally ill and possibly at gun shows.”
There are already laws on the books saying felons and the mentally ill shouldn’t have weapons, Brooks said.
“We don’t have the systems in place,” she said. “We’re not entering enough data to insure the mentally ill don’t have access to weapons. What Newtown demonstrated is that parents, caregivers and professionals that deal with the mentally ill people need to have the right training and mechanisms that they report when people are dangerous or get access to weapons.”
As an example, Brooks referenced the 2004 shooting death of Indianapolis Police officer Jake Laird and the wounding of four other officers.
She said the shooter in that case had guns removed from his possession by police, but the weapons were returned because there was no legal authority for law enforcement to retain the weapons.
“I was U.S. Attorney when Laird was killed in the line of duty,” Brooks said. “We tightened up the law in Indiana so that law enforcement was no longer required to return guns to the mentally ill.
“We need to make sure the Jake Laird law is enacted across the country,” she said. “We don’t want to remove guns from law-abiding citizens.”
Brooks said the root cause of gun violence is not the gun or ammunition but the drug dealers, criminals and mentally ill.
“Taking away guns and ammunition is not the answer,” she said. “Criminals always get their hands on them; let’s give law enforcement the ability to enforce the existing laws.”
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