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Despite shootings, skepticism abounds over gun law reform

By Andrew Adams | Posted - Jun 10th, 2014 @ 11:04pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — After the 74th school shooting since Sandy Hook and the fourth multiple shooting in six days, even some of the staunchest of gun control activists remained skeptical Tuesday that any meaningful gun or mental health reform legislation would ever be approved by lawmakers.

“It is frustrating and I do ask myself what it will take,” said Steve Gunn, who is on the board of directors at the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah.

The latest act of gun violence came in Troutdale, Oregon, where police said Tuesday a teen carrying a rifle went to a school and killed a 14-year-old student and injured a teacher before likely killing himself.

Gunn acknowledged he has observed a repeating cycle of shootings, deaths and reform bills that have died at lawmakers’ feet.

“The gun lobby is stronger than the gun control lobby,” Gunn said. “There is no incentive for politicians to pass even reasonable gun control legislation.”

Gunn alluded to a bill last year that failed to clear the U.S. Senate that would have expanded when background checks are required for gun purchases.

Some of the latest federal legislation to be proposed is the Pause for Safety Act, sponsored by a group of California lawmakers. It would encourage states to approve a program for families to obtain court orders to stop potentially “dangerous” people from possessing guns or buying new ones. In return, the states could receive federal grant money.

Even that proposal raises serious questions for Republicans who believe mental health and guns is a valid discussion.

“At what point do we take it?” Rep. Paul Ray, R-Cleafield, questioned. “At what point do we give it back? And if we give it back and something happens, who is liable?”

Ray suggested mental health reform legislation should have less to do with guns and more to do with getting at-risk people the help they need.

“How can people refer relatives, friends into counseling and help? It’s expensive,” Ray said. “Most insurance policies don’t cover it. There’s a gap in coverage and we’ve got to figure out how to cover that gap in coverage. That’s going to be the key going forward to control some of the crime that we have going on.”

Clark Aposhian with the Utah Shooting Sports Council said he didn’t see a need for legislation at all, but said he did see a need for outreach and public education to help people recognize when it’s important to intervene.

“We’ve got to do something, because what we’re doing is not working,” Aposhian said.

Matthew Burbank, associate professor of political science at the University of Utah, was skeptical anything would change in the short-term, and if it did it would be more likely related to mental health reform.

"I don't think it's going to happen quickly," Burbank said of any potential legislation that could be middle-of-the-road enough to appeal to the pro- gun and gun control sides.

Burbank said public opinion would have to change from its current state, and staying power would have to develop behind the push for reform.

"There's nothing like a group that's the equal of the National Rifle Association that would be pushing for limiting access," Burbank said.


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