The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 17, 2013

Rahall: Problem is bigger, broader than guns

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

— A “full debate” allowing his West Virginia constituents ample time to understand the impact of President Barack Obama’s anti-gun proposals and offer their ideas was vowed Wednesday by Rep. Nick Rahall.

Obama outlined a package of gun control measures, among them 23 that he can impose by executive order, in response to the schoolhouse massacre last month in Newtown, Conn.

A major part of his plan is to ban the ownership of semi-automatic firearms that use high-capacity magazines.

“The problem is bigger, broader than guns,” said Rahall, a Democrat and lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, which is vowing a strenuous battle on Capitol Hill on any attempt to compromise the 2nd Amendment guarantees.

Rahall called for enforcement and prosecution “to the fullest extent for those who don’t abide by existing laws.”

Improved means of detecting those with mental disorders and criminal backgrounds are needed, along with counseling and mental health services for young adults, Rahall said.

The shooter identified in the Sandy Hook Elementary School carnage, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, was a young man with a history of mental illness.

“Expanding funds for resource officers, who are already an effective presence in our state schools, ought to receive support,” the 3rd District congressman said.

“And, strengthening the background check system for purchasing firearms by more seamlessly sharing information makes sense.”

Rahall emphasized that Congress isn’t obligated to accept any of Obama’s proposals, which bear an approximate price tag of $500 million.

“I expect and will push for a full debate, so that West Virginians have every opportunity to understand the proposals before the Congress and to make their views known,” he said.

Another lifetime NRA member in the state delegation — Sen. Joe Manchin — said he was meeting with his constituents on the “culture of mass violence” and couldn’t immediately analyze Obama’s proposals, but added, “I will weigh each recommendation carefully.”

Manchin, also a Democrat, voiced disappointment that Obama failed to call for a commission on mass violence as he advocated.

This could build consensus for meaningful action, “backed not only by gun control advocates, mental health experts and entertainment industry executives, but also by law-abiding gun owners who fully understand the history and heritage of firearms in America,” he said.

“Violence destroys the dignity, hopes and lives of millions of Americans, and we have a unique opportunity to stop this epidemic — but only if we can put politics aside and have an honest and effective conversation about what to do about our culture of mass violence,” Manchin added.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, also D-W.Va., applauded Obama’s plan and said Congress can protect the 2nd Amendment while seeking ways to prevent violence.

“In West Virginia, we have a proud tradition of hunting and understand the importance of the 2nd Amendment,” he said.

Rockefeller pointed out he backed the original ban on so-called assault weapons and eliminating loopholes in background checks for firearms purchases, along with supporting child safety locks on all handguns and barring domestic abusers from buying weapons.

“Today, I support steps that build on these ideas, while making sure our hunters’ and sportsmen’s rights are protected,” he said.

The senator reaffirmed his plea to look into the violent movies and television shows and their impact on society.

“I think everyone can agree that the impact of violent content on our kids’ well-being is an important issue and I’m glad this new plan will take a close look at it,” he said.

Rockefeller plans to reintroduced his bill for a study by the National Academy of Sciences on the connection between violent films and videos and the children of behavior.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said Mountain State residents want Congress to work together in a concerted effort to produce common solutions to curbing gun violence.

“That’s why I’m disappointed that President Obama issued an executive order today instead of showing a willingness to work with Congress and state leaders to address this serious issue,” she said.

“Whether appointing czars to run car companies, using the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate where it can legislate, or using executive orders to circumvent Congress on gun control, the president has displayed a worrisome willingness to use the White House to advance ideological agendas.”

Capito said she would consider ideas on the issue “in an inclusive manner, from the level of violence in the media, to how we address mental illness in this country to gun laws.”

One of West Virginia’s new state senators, Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, was the first lawmaker to post his opposition to Obama’s intentions.

“For the record, I do not support further gun control,” Hall told friends on the social network Facebook.

“I will be working with other like-minded members of the West Virginia Legislature to protect our 2nd Amendment rights.”

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