News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 23, 2012

Indiana’s Republican, Democratic lawmakers on different sides of topic

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Tragic shootings at a Connecticut elementary school have Democrat leaders aiming for gun control legislation, while some Republicans say they’re missing the mark.

The topic boils through the holidays as both White House and Congress continue partisan wrangling concerning the Fiscal Cliff. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has tasked Vice President Joe Biden with establishing a commission to explore ways of preventing violent massacres such as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were killed by a lone gunman.

“The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing,” Obama said in his most detailed comments on guns since the incident. “The fact that we can’t prevent every act of violence doesn’t mean we can’t steadily reduce the violence.”

In addition to exploring solutions related to mental health and culture, Obama has pressed lawmakers to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, close loopholes that allow gun buyers to skirt background checks and restrict high-capacity ammunition clips.

Other officials, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have called for a reinstatement of the federal ban on assault weapons which President Bill Clinton signed into effect in 1994. That ban expired in 2004, and both sides of the gun control issue continue to argue its effectiveness.

Both Indiana’s 4th and 8th District congressmen, Republicans Todd Rokita and Larry Bucshon, said they favor seeking solutions to the problem of violence in American culture, but legislation such as the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban isn’t the answer because it simply hasn’t worked in the past.

In a telephone interview, Bucshon, a heart surgeon from southern Indiana, said the issue of violence in America is not only tragic, but multifaceted.

“I have four kids myself, and just watching these family members talking about their first-graders is just heartbreaking,” he said, emphasizing the need to focus on community and family rather than “knee-jerk” political stances.

And that, he said, is precisely what a cry for assault weapons bans are.

“I wouldn’t be in favor of it for a number of reasons, primarily it didn’t work,” he said in reference to the 1994 bill.

Likewise, Rokita issued a response by email on the topic, and stated the same.

"The CDC (Centers for Disease Control), Department of Justice and University of Pennsylvania all examined the 1994 assault weapons ban and determined that there was no clear evidence that it reduced gun murders. The solutions will have to be found elsewhere, including giving local school officials the flexibility to put better safety measures in place,” he stated.

Democratic U.S. Rep. and Indiana Senator-elect Joe Donnelly was invited to weigh in on the topic and emailed the following statement last week: “Friday’s tragedy in Newtown is heartbreaking, and my family and I continue to keep the victims and their families in our prayers. Now is the time to work together to make sure this never happens again. All parties must come to the table as we determine the appropriate action to address this extremely concerning problem of senseless violence.”

Bucshon took time to discuss the issue over the phone amid what all involved noted is an incredibly busy period, with fiscal policy dominating Capitol Hill. The combined emotions of murdered children and contentious gun control philosophies makes for a tough topic, but one which can and hopefully will be addressed.

According to a study released by the U.S. Department of Justice, the impact of the federal assault weapons ban is debatable. Proponents argue the 10-year period in question wasn’t sufficient to “dry up” the supply of existing weapons, but did in fact cause a demonstrable shortage as evidenced by the skyrocketing price and black market sales of affected weapons at that time. Opponents argue the number of deaths, shooting and gun-related crimes remained largely the same.

Bucshon pointed out that Cook County, Ill., has ushered into effect some of the nation’s toughest gun laws and yet it leads the nation in murders and violent crime.

According to the Uniform Crime Reports maintained by the FBI, violent crime fell overall in America during 2011, but Chicago and New York City suffered 431 and 514 murders respectively.

According to the report, guns were used in two thirds of the nation’s murders, 41 percent of its robberies and 21 percent of aggravated assaults.

Bucshon said the issue requires a “comprehensive discussion” and one which also weights mental health, medical treatment policy and socio-economic factors.

Referencing the shooter in this summer’s movie theater rampage in Aurora, Colo., Bucshon said the individual is clearly deranged. A post-graduate student at the University of Colorado-Denver’s school of neuroscience, James Holmes reportedly walked into the theater as it was showing the newest “Batman” movie and began spraying bullets into the crowd while dressed as a character from the movie.

“He clearly had mental issues and people knew it, but there was nothing they could do,” he said, adding that as a physician, he empathizes with the families of mentally ill adults in that their options are restricted by law.

The same is true in the case of Adam Lanza, the accused shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Once individuals reach the legal age of adulthood, their families have few options in getting them help, Bucshon said. Even if the family were to call police and inform them of the individual’s danger, they could be detained only a few hours, he said.

“Is there more that we can do to help these people with treatment and therapy, to help their situation?” he posed.

Also, Bucshon pointed out the role medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, play in violent outbursts. A host of anti-depressants have been ushered into America in recent years, along with over-the-counter supplements and energy drinks. The interactions between these substances and the impact of withdrawal remains a question, but evidence suggests those issues can in fact trigger psychotic episodes such as the shootings in question, he said.

The federal assault weapons ban, he said, was also problematic in all that it exempted.

As part of the much larger Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the ban established a flowchart for classifying assault weapons, defining some 19 models of firearms, including shotguns and pistols, as such. The act also defined and banned large-capacity, ammunition-feeding devices which could be used to supply the weapon with a high supply of ammunition. But the ban impacted only the manufacture and sale of new weapons, while those already in existence were exempted, and supplies from outside the country were introduced via a new black market.

Bucshon described recent attempts to reintroduce that legislation as “political theater” and counter-productive to examining the underlying issues of “why we live in a violent society.”

Rokita’s statement likewise described acts such as those at Sandy Hook Elementary School as too complex to address with simplistic bills.

“The recent tragedy in Newtown was the result of an evil perpetrator and a sick culture. As a father of two young boys, I want nothing more than for them to be safe after I drop them off at school.

“But I don’t believe that passing more gun control laws will accomplish that, and of course, any proposed solutions must be consistent with our constitutional right to bear arms,” he stated.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or The Associated Press contributed to this report.