WASHINGTON — West Virginia MetroNews contacted federal lawmakers last week about what actions they have taken or are considering in regards to preventing mass shootings.
This work comes more than a week after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, in which 17 people died. Student activists have pushed for gun control legislation in response.
Questions were sent to the five lawmakers who represent West Virginia in the United States Congress — Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Republican Reps. David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins — in an effort to understand how each believe mass shootings should be prevented.
Communications directors for Mooney and Jenkins sent responses via email, while Capito answered questions during a stop last week in Charleston. A spokesman for McKinley said the congressman was in Israel with other lawmakers last week during the congressional recess. A spokesperson for Manchin did not return any requests for comment on this matter.
Preventing mass shootings
Jenkins said whatever legislative action takes place, it cannot restrict the right to bear arms as stated in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“We must ensure that laws currently on the books are enforced. In the case of Florida, we are learning that there were many warning signs and missed opportunities that may have prevented this tragedy from ever happening,” he said.
Jenkins added the FBI should have followed up on tips it received about the suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz.
“Everyone has heard the saying, ‘See something, say something,’ and many people contacted law enforcement to do just that,” he said. “We must fully investigate any tips so this can never happen again.”
Jenkins said the 21st Century Cures Act — in which he voted in favor — increases treatment for serious mental illness, as well as related funding. The other four West Virginia lawmakers voted in favor of the legislation.
Mooney said existing laws need to be enforced before new policies are enacted.
“It appears that warnings about the troubled gunman were ignored and leads such as those should be followed up on more thoroughly by law enforcement agencies,” he added.
Capito said schools are already very secure, but more can be done to ensure safety. When asked about metal detectors in schools, she said she “hopes we don’t have to come to that.”
“We could face a day. In D.C. schools, they have metal detectors. I think by securing the actual building better and more consistently, we need to do that first,” she said.
Strengthening the federal background check system
Sens. John Cornyn, R-Tex., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., introduced a bill in November that would require federal agencies and states to develop plans regarding sharing information that could prevent someone from purchasing a firearm. It would also penalize federal agencies if they do not upload related records, while reward states would take part in the program.
Jenkins said he voted for a similar bill — the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act — in December. McKinley and Mooney also voted in favor of the legislation.
Mooney said he would review the Cornyn-Murphy plan once it is finalized.
“I will also continue to support legislation to give law enforcement and other public safety officials the tools they need to protect us,” he added.
Capito said she favors getting rid of bump stocks and enhancing background checks. President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Justice to ban bump stocks — which were in the October mass shooting in Las Vegas — and similar devices that allow users to fire guns faster.
How different levels of governments should act to prevent shootings
Mooney said while every level of government needs to be active in addressing shootings, local governments and board of education should be first to address violence in schools.
“State legislatures and the federal government should be participants in the effort, but should enable local entities to take actions which they deem appropriate for their schools, their communities and their overall safety,” he said.
Mooney continued, saying there needs to be a public conversation on multiple issues related to public safety, including mental health, bullying and gun violence prevention.
Jenkins said all laws need to be enforced and governments should respect the Second Amendment.
Mooney mentioned millions of young Americans use firearms for sporting purposes, and those older than 18-years-old are allowed to use firearms if they are in the military.
“The Constitution is clear about the protections offered for law-abiding citizens. I will not waiver from my support of the Second Amendment,” he said.
Jenkins said law-abiding citizens should have a right to own a firearm, and governments should focus on enforcing laws in place.
“I have voted to support legislation to ensure federal and state authorities are reporting criminal histories to NICS, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System,” he said.
Capito said she wants to look into age requirements when it comes to buying a gun.
“There’s the question as to at 19 he can’t buy a beer, but he can buy a gun. We need to look at that,” she said, referring to Cruz.
Capito said she believes the latest mass shooting was a mental health issue, not necessarily just a gun issue.
“The young man obviously was sick. He had a lot of calls to his house. He had calls to the school. He had warning signs that he had posted on blogs. There were many, many red flags that didn’t come together. Why is that? So we need to figure that out,” she said.
MetroNews reporter Carrie Hodousek contributed to this article.