Democratic and Republican candidates for the 6th Congressional District have contrasting views on gun laws following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas last week.
Frederick County resident Merritt Hale, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-Lexington, for the Republican nomination in the district, said by phone interview that government intervention is not the answer following the death of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde.
“Government can only do so much, it’s just made up of people,” Hale said. “It can’t solve all of society’s issues. We need at the local level to make sure we as a community are reaching out to people and make sure that we see if somebody’s depressed and starting to go down a bad stage and cut that off.”
Hale said addressing mental health, the root cause of such shootings, is needed more than expanded background checks and red flag laws allowing police to seize guns from people showing signs of mental health issues. He also opposes any restrictions related to banning assault weapons or increasing the age to purchase them to 21.
“When hacking goes on, we don’t talk about banning all computers because that just doesn’t make sense relative to what the problem is, that’s not the root cause,” he said.
“The Second Amendment is very clear, people have the right to own guns,” Hale added. “As long as that’s an inherent right, they’re going to be bad people no matter how thoroughly we do a background check.”
Hale added that he would support using federal dollars to “harden” or increase security at schools to ensure there is only one entry point, as opposed to sending $40 billion to Ukraine. Details coming to light surrounding the Uvalde shooting indicate the perpetrator entered the school through an unlocked entrance.
Arming teachers — an issue raised after a shooter killed 17 and injured 17 in 2017 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida — should be left up to states, with federal funding being directed to areas that the states desire, Hale said.
A 2018-19 Virginia Commonwealth University Poll found that 47% of Virginians were strongly or somewhat in favor of allowing localities to train teachers and administrators to be armed in schools. Some 49% were strongly or somewhat opposed. The results were the opposite for northwest Virginia.
Cline declined to be interviewed and instead sent a statement in response to questions from The Northern Virginia Daily. He also called for increased safety at the local, state and federal level.
“Resource officers inside schools serve as deterrents for criminals seeking soft targets to attack,” Cline stated. “Teachers and employees who wish to provide their schools with additional protection should be permitted to arm themselves. And additional resources should be made available to implement recommended safety measures for school buildings.”
The primary for the Republican nomination is on June 21, although early voting is underway.
Lewis, the Democratic challenger for whoever wins the GOP primary, said improving mental health and arming teachers is not the answer to stopping school shootings.
Other countries have mental health issues, but they don’t have the mass shootings America has because they have gun control measures, Lewis said.
“It’s the things that we’ve been talking about since Sandy Hook, since Columbine,” Lewis said, of the gun control measures being discussed now that need to be implemented.
Emphasizing mental health as the cause of shootings stigmatizes the condition, said Lewis, who works in the mental health field.
Lewis she is not opposed to people legally owning firearms, and she ealizes compromise is needed.
“The issue is our obsession with our gun culture and the toxic society that we are breeding in this country,” said Lewis, who grew up on a farm. “What people really need to think is, ‘Is protecting my piece of metal more important, more important than a child’...I don’t understand.”
Lewis’ niece recently had to participate in an active shooter drill at her school that involved her hiding in a shed as an officer rattled the door to the structure, she said. It was traumatic, Lewis added. A student survivor of the Texas shooting was reported to cover herself in blood to hide herself from the shooter, Lewis added.
“That’s not the America I want tolive in and I know that’s not the America that our kids want to be raised in,” Lewis said. “Is that freedom — when our 6-year-old kids gets gunned down in school? Is it freedom that we take away the future of an 11-year-old girl? That’s not freedom.”
The November mid-term elections are Nov. 8.