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The day after a 71-year-old lone gunman shot three people at Saint Stephens Episcopal Church in Vestavia, Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville spoke about the Senate gun control bill being considered that would be the most significant gun control legislation in decades.
“If we do anything with this bill, we have to ‘harden’ (better protect) schools and allow states access to funds to deal with mental health,’’ Tuberville said.
In Thursday’s shooting, the gunman, identified as Robert Findlay Smith, attended what was called a “Boomer Potluck” supper at the church in the Cahaba Heights community. There, for reasons still unknown, he pulled a gun and killed Walter “Bart” Rainey, 84, of Irondale, Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham, and a third woman, whose family asked her identity not be released, before being subdued by another attendee.
Senators were attempting to draft gun-control legislation but failed to overcome sticking points before breaking for the weekend. One of the sticking points is allowing states who do not pass so-called ‘red-flag’ laws access to federal grants that could be used to address mental health issues.
Red-flag laws have been passed in 19 states. Those laws allow authorities, and sometimes family members or co-workers, to ask judges to order the temporary seizure of guns from people threatening violence.
There is no indication that red-flag laws would have affected Thursday's shooting.
Tuberville said he believes red-flag laws should be left up to each state, and he believes that federal grant money being offered to states to enact these laws should also be available to other states for mental health programs.
“We don’t need to pass red-flag laws,’’ Tuberville said Tuesday. “If states want to (pass them), it’s up to them. We don’t have a mental health program in this country. … Until we address that, I think we’ll have major problems.”
Friday, in an appearance at Birmingham’s Protective Stadium to celebrate his first class of United States Military Academy appointments, Tuberville went further.
“Not every state is addressing the mental health issue adequately,” Tuberville said. “We’re looking at (federal) grants for mental health and not limiting that grant money just to states that pass red-flag laws. Too many states are just picking up people off the street, putting them in jail, and then after a time releasing them right back onto the street. That’s not addressing the mental health issues. We need to focus on rehabilitation.
“The big thing is to understand what is happening. Guns are obviously the weapon of choice, but if not guns it would be something else. We’ve got to go after the cause, and a big part of that is addressing the mental health aspect.”
While the actual text of the proposed bill has not been finalized, 10 senators from each party signed on to the framework last Sunday, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) backed the proposals, which would be the most significant federal legislation on guns in decades.
Top gun-control advocates have backed the framework. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has said it wouldn’t take a position on the proposal until the full text of the bill was public.
The holdup is apparently over language in two provisions. One is providing federal grants to states to enforce red-flag laws but not, according to Tuberville, making grant money available to states to implement crisis intervention or other mental health programs.
The second part is the language around closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole” that allows convicted domestic abusers to buy guns if they aren’t married to their partner, which opponents fear is too broad.
Current law already bans those who are “married to, lived with, or have a child with the victim” and who have been convicted of an abuse felony or are under a restraining order from obtaining a firearm. Democrats want this to extend to “serious dating partners,’’ while Republicans are worried about how “serious” could be defined.
The proposed legislation remains in discussion and hasn’t been drafted into text.
“What we really have to do is change the culture,’’ Tuberville said. “It’s got to be addressed from the ground up- family, God, moral values. The nuclear family is under attack every day. Then students are exposed to social media and hate being taught in schools.
“It’s tough, an uphill battle. But it’s never going to change until we address the problem at that level. We’ve got laws. That has shown it isn’t enough.”
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