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Florida shooting sparks reactions from Republican senators on gun control



After a 19-year-old man was accused of fatally shooting 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last week, all eyes turned to Republican lawmakers – many of whom have had support of pro-gun organizations over the years.

Thousands of students, parents and teachers attended rallies over the weekend in support of stronger gun control legislation. And many of them blamed politicians – particularly those who have accepted donations from the National Rifle Association (NRA), a nonprofit that supports gun rights.

Here’s a look at what 15 Republican senators have said about gun control in the aftermath of the deadly shooting on Feb. 14.

John Boozman, Arkansas

When Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., was a student in Arkansas, he said it wasn’t uncommon for “young people to actually bring their rifles to school during deer season.” But, he told KARK-TV, “nobody at that time entertained the thought of doing such a horrendous thing” as shooting individuals in a school.

Boozman says the “heart of the problem” facing the U.S. is a mix of drugs, gangs, mental health and the “break-up of the family,” which, he argued, can be the catalyst behind these recent tragedies.

“Throwing money at the problem or passing a law that simply would not make any difference is not the answer – even though it might make us all feel better.”

– Sen. John Boozman

“My understanding is, if you look at all the instances like these that have happened in recent history, that all of the things that have been proposed in Congress to counter them would not have made any difference,” Boozman told KARK. “Throwing money at the problem or passing a law that simply would not make any difference is not the answer – even though it might make us all feel better.”

He said he wants to see the country be able to more easily identify “these young white males that are definitely mentally ill, very unstable,” and be able to “somehow restrain them.”

Susan Collins, Maine

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told the Bangor Daily News that she’s sponsored several bills in Congress that would prohibit people on a no-fly list from purchasing guns as well as strengthen background checks.

“What happened [in Florida] is not only so horrific a tragedy, but it also has happened far too many times in this country,” she said.

John Cornyn, Texas

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has spoken to President Trump about a bipartisan bill designed to strengthen the FBI database of prohibited gun buyers, according to the White House.

The bill, which he introduced last year alongside Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., would penalize federal agencies that fail to provide the necessary records and reward states that comply with federal grant preferences and other incentives.

Ted Cruz, Texas

Appearing on Fox News, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized Democrats for what he said was their attempt to “politicize” a tragedy – including by advocating to “take away the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Cruz mentioned the mass shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, in November 2017 and said the survivors told him “gun control is not the answer.”

“The answer is to focus on criminals, to focus on violent criminals,” Cruz said.

The former presidential contender has also battled CNN in the wake of the shooting. The cable news network accused Cruz, along with other Republicans, of being “unwilling” to appear on CNN to talk about gun control.

Cruz pushed back on Twitter, saying he did a 15-minute interview with CNN “about proactive solutions to prevent gun violence,” but said the network “aired NONE of it.”

Joni Ernst, Iowa

After the shooting, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said there should be a balance between supporting existing gun laws and not restricting Second Amendment rights.

“While we must enforce current federal gun laws to prevent firearms from getting into the wrong hands, we can and must do so in a way that respects our Constitution,” Ernst told KCCI-TV.

“The root cause is not that we have the Second Amendment; it is that we’re not adequately addressing mental illness across the United States.”

– Sen. Joni Ernst

She also told reporters on a conference call that the problem isn’t guns, but societal issues that can be helped with better access to mental health services, the Des Moines Register reported.

“The root cause is not that we have the Second Amendment,” Ernst said. “It is that we’re not adequately addressing mental illness across the United States. We need to focus on that, and we need to focus on substance abuse.”

Cory Gardner, Colorado

Like other Republicans, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., has said the school shooting should serve as an example for lawmakers to better improve mental health initiatives.

“Now is the time to have a discussion about what we can do to break down the barriers that prevent help going to people who need it – whether that’s a substance abuse issue or whether that’s a mental health concern,” Gardner said, according to the Denver Post.

Gardner called for a probe into whether authorities took earlier complaints about the alleged gunman seriously enough.  

“We need to understand why those reports weren’t investigated or further action wasn’t taken,” he said.

Chuck Grassley, Iowa

After the shooting, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told fellow lawmakers he planned to sit down with some of them to discuss gun legislation, CBS News reported.

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman responded to a request from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and said he would to talk to her and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Both senators have introduced legislation pertaining to gun control. Feinstein, in particular, is seeking to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase rifles.

Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., accused gun control advocates of attempting to “take a tragedy and try to capitalize on it.”

“Every time there’s an incident, people somehow think if you take away guns from law-abiding citizens, the criminal element will give up their guns voluntarily,” Inhofe told WJLA-TV. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

John Kennedy, Louisiana

According to Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., the “first way to stop a shooter is to shoot back.”

Kennedy is advocating for active shooter drills and trained security personnel on hand in schools. He told WVUE-TV he’s not going to support “more gun control.”

“I don’t think gun control keeps guns out of the hands of people that shouldn’t have guns,” Kennedy said. “I think criminals and those who are mentally ill obey gun laws pretty much like politicians keep promises.”

“I think our problem is not gun control; it’s idiot control,” he quipped.

James Lankford, Oklahoma

While he’s not on board with a ban of so-called assault weapons, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., called for stronger background checks in the wake of the Florida school shooting.

“The problem is not owning an AR-15, it’s the person who owns it,” Lankford told NBC News, adding that he doesn’t believe the AR-15 should be more difficult to buy.

He pushed for reform to strengthen background checks on individuals purchasing firearms, especially in some “rural departments or federal entities.”

Lankford strongly advocated for the “Fix NICS Act,” from Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn. The bill “penalizes federal agencies who fail to properly report relevant records and incentivizes states to improve their overall reporting,” Cornyn described in a post on his website.

Lisa Murkowski, Alaska

Like some of her Republican colleagues, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, focused on mental health efforts in the wake of the shooting.

“I think we all know that there is no one single initiative that is going to be able to stop what happened in Florida or what has happened in — unfortunately — far too many other areas, where, again, you think there’s a level of safety and security and there’s not,” Murkowski told Vox.

She added that Alaska has a “very serious deficiency when it comes to mental health providers.”

Mike Rounds, South Dakota

In an interview with NPR, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., encouraged people not to get too caught up in the type of firearm used in the school shooting.

“You can call any type of a series of different types of guns assault weapon, and suddenly then they become a demonized item,” Rounds said. “And then suddenly it sounds like we’ve done something. The reality is there’s a whole lot of different types of weapons that can be utilized whether you’re talking about a handgun, or you’re talking about a shotgun, or you’re talking about a rifle…”

Rounds said Congress “could do a better job,” but added that he supports the Second Amendment.

“All we have to do is take away one particular type of weapon – that suddenly becomes the discussion point. And suddenly we all feel good about having done something. And in reality, we haven’t done something,” he said.

Marco Rubio, Florida

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has borne the brunt of criticism in the wake of the school shooting in his state, given his positions on gun control. He said the issue is “complicated,” but “not unsolvable.”

“If a bill makes things better, we should vote for it and keep working,” Rubio told WFOR-TV. “But we’re in an era now where everybody wants to get 100 percent of what they want or they’ll just walk away.”

“There’s this false narrative out there that says just because you want to deal with mental illness means you don’t want to deal with the gun part.”

– Sen. Marco Rubio

Rubio said it should have been “impossible” for the alleged gunman in Parkland to have been able to obtain the firearm he did, though he added that he respects law-abiding citizens who want to own a weapon like an AR-15 for sport or protection.

“There’s this false narrative out there that says just because you want to deal with mental illness means you don’t want to deal with the gun part. I’m willing to deal with the gun part. I don’t think people like this guy or people like him should be able to have any gun, not an AR-15, any gun. We need to create a system that keeps them from getting it,” Rubio said.

Rubio also embraced a Democratic bill in the Florida legislature to allow courts to temporarily prevent people from having guns if they are determined to be a threat to themselves or others.

Tim Scott, South Carolina

After the deadly Florida shooting, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said the “system in place simply was not followed.”

“We all say, ‘If you see something, say something,’” Scott told CBS News. “In [the] Parkland community, we saw people reporting there were 20 calls to the sheriff’s department, they responded. The FBI received a legitimate, credible tip and it was not followed up upon.”

Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania

On social media, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., assured the public of his commitment to “improving our federal background check system.”

“I believe gun safety legislation should focus on keeping guns away from those who shouldn’t have them – criminals, the dangerously mentally ill and terrorists,” Toomey said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @K_Schallhorn.

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