On the morning of Jan. 17, 177 students and staff met face-to-face with U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley. After a brief introduction, the senator opened for questions, where second amendment restrictions, arming school guards, NRA PAC money and gun law debates led off.
Half of the hour-long conference focused on gun control and mental health.
“In the wake of tragedies involving guns over the last three years,” said senior student Abby Eike, “I would like your thoughts on what seems to be our government’s lack of responsibility towards fixing the real issue on gun violence, which is mental health.”
Eike’s questions followed similar ones from fellow seniors Kate Huber and Megan Grant.
The answers, said Grassley, will not be found by increasing restrictions.
“I’m very much a believer in the second amendment,” he said. “I believe that restrictions on guns should be pretty limited. Just to prove to you that more gun laws isn’t the answer — those guns were outlawed in 1998 when there were 12 students killed at Columbine High School.”
Citing other instances — Aurora, Colo.; Newtown, Conn.; Parkersburg — the “real” problems to Grassley stem from lax mental health regulations. Following Parkersburg — in which football coach Ed Thomas was murdered by a former player — Iowa legislators passed a law requiring county sheriffs to be notified when psychiatric patients are released from a hospital.
The other 49 states haven’t followed, while HIPPA laws and weapon purchase databases leave more to be desired by the senator.
“When you buy a gun from a dealer, that dealer’s got to find out (if) you have a felony or a mental problem,” Grassley said. “That is registered so you can’t have a gun. There are certain groups of people that can’t purchase guns, but that database doesn’t have all the people in it that ought to be in it.
“The bottom line is,” he added, “we have to deal with the touchy subject of how do you tell people about mental illness and ferret out those that shouldn’t have guns?”
On Aurora and Newtown, Grassley said it was “obvious” the shooters shouldn’t have had access to weapons. When he referenced James Holmes, the alleged Aurora gunman, he explained authorities weren’t notified of psychiatric warning flags.
“It’s something we’ve got to deal with in this gun debate coming up,” Grassley said, referencing reform talks in Washington. “There are people that have mental health problems that shouldn’t be getting guns.”
The senator also touched on why he voted against a fiscal cliff deal, term limits, Obamacare and farm bill proposals. Questions were asked by the government class taught by Dan Cassutt, who was notified a week before that the senator would visit.
“For our students, it was a unique experience to have a United States senator in to speak with us,” Cassutt said. “He told me he likes to get out to different schools and talk to students. It was a good day for Maquoketa Valley.”