Coburn: Mentally ill should be barred from having guns
BY JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
Sunday, January 16, 2011
1/17/11 at 3:32 AM
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, viewed as a staunch congressional supporter of gun rights, said Sunday he is willing to work to make sure the mentally ill cannot get and use a gun.
Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press,'' the Oklahoma Republican rejected legislative efforts expected from others to ban or limit high-capacity gun clips like that one allegedly used in the assassination attempt against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., that left others dead and injured.
"Let's fix the real problem,'' Coburn said.
"Here's a mentally deranged person who had access to a gun that shouldn't have had access to a gun.''
Without providing specifics on the changes he would make in the current system, Coburn spoke of the concerns others had of Jared Loughner, who has been charged in the Tucson shootings.
"And yet nobody grabbed hold of this young individual and said, 'You need to be helped. You need to be taken under care.' And then had he been, he would have been reported and never been able to buy a gun.''
According to reports, Loughner's behavior had led to his leaving his community college but those concerns apparently were not shared with local law enforcement.
Coburn said there was a "hole in what we need to do,'' adding he was willing to work with others who want "to make sure people who are mentally ill cannot get and use a gun.''
When asked about efforts to ban or limit high-capacity clips, Coburn conceded the issue was controversial but expressed opposition to such a move.
"The problem with gun laws is they limit the ability to defend yourself,'' he said, adding criminals or those "going to do something crazy'' are not going to pay attention to gun laws.
Still, at least Coburn's comments on being willing to address the mental health issue were welcomed by Paul Helmke, a leading voice on such issues as president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
In 2007, Coburn used Senate procedures to derail a vote on legislation supported by the Brady Campaign and the National Rifle Association following the Virginia Tech massacre to provide grants to states to input criminal records of individuals barred from purchasing firearms into a federal system used for background checks.
Coburn reportedly objected because the measure's costs had not been offset and because of his concerns that some may lose their Second Amendment gun rights.
That legislation eventually became law.
On Sunday, Helmke said Coburn's comments appear to open the door at least slightly on the issue of mental health, adding the current law is too weak to have covered Loughner.
Currently, he said, the law requires some kind of court or legal proceeding to find Loughner to be a danger to be covered.
"That shows that our laws keeping dangerous people away from guns are too weak in this country. In effect, that's what the senator indirectly admitted,'' Helmke said.
He conceded how such people should be defined in the law is a challenge, expressing hope Coburn will use his medical background as a physician to help lead the effort to hold hearings and have mental health experts testify on what would be appropriate.
"The shooter was too dangerous for algebra class. He was too suspect for the military,'' Helmke said, adding people spotted the alleged shooter as a problem.
"That doesn't get him in our background checks system.''
On the issue of high-capacity clips, Helmke said Congress should ban them again because the previous ban worked and the issue has a direct link to the Tucson tragedy.
Had the alleged shooter in Arizona not been able to buy a 30-round clip, Helmke said, he could have stopped when he attempted to reload only after 10 rounds.
He said a ban on such high-capacity clips would mean they would no longer be manufactured, adding Coburn's argument about bad guys not following the law misses that point.
"Police departments don't even use 30-round clips,'' Helmke said.
"Thirty-round clips aren't used for hunting. They are not necessary for self-protection. They are only good for shooting a lot of people quickly.''