In today’s charged political atmosphere, the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting can turn sharply partisan and accusatory rather quickly. It increasingly seems like both sides are talking past each other, and that no act of gun violence, no matter how horrific, seems to really move the debate forward at all. The frustration is real and understandable.
At a Jeb Bush event in Dubuque on Tuesday, however, one man framed the question of gun control to the candidate in an interesting way that avoided the charged rhetoric. Robert Baugh, a retired high school language arts teacher, expressed his concerns in one of the better questions I’ve heard on the Iowa Caucus trail, so I thought I’d share it:
“Governor, the Iowa deer season opens on Saturday,” Baugh began his question to Bush. “That doesn’t sound like an important issue for anybody but the old, retired guys. I’m going to be with some really good friends. I’ve been adopted by a marvelous bunch of young guys – they like me to go, I don’t much care if I shoot a deer or not. But we have a lot of fun together. A story here: last year, they put the old guy – that’s me – in the hunting spot, and they pushed a nice buck up, and I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I shot it.”
“And I was up to my elbows in that deer, Governor,” Baugh continued. “One of them came up and patted me on the butt and said, ‘Nice shot, Bob.’ It wasn’t, but the old guy was feeling it. I said, ‘Thank you, I’m really glad to be here. This is a pretty special time.’ And the man in the group said, ‘Yeah, we’re glad you joined the group too, Bob, because ever since none of us have to remember toilet paper.'”
At this point some in the audience probably started to wonder where on earth this question was going. But then Baugh turned deeply serious.
“And that’s one side,” Baugh said. “You’ve got memories. Iowa’s wonderful harvest, 2nd Amendment rights. Responsible people doing the right thing. Now let’s go to the other end of that spectrum. You got a madman blasting Gabby Giffords down. You got an insane guy standing up at a Colorado theater blasting hundreds of people into a nightmare for the rest of their lives. We’ve got this Planned Parenthood thing just the other day.”
“Two ends of the spectrum. I would be very, very interested in hearing a common sense, conservative way that my guys and I can still hunt and Gabby Giffords doesn’t have to lay there with a bullet in her brain,” Baugh concluded.
Bush responded that he’d asked an excellent question, and he did. It was a good way of acknowledging the concerns of gun-owners and the fun and camaraderie that many hunters associate with gun ownership, while still pressing on the need to do something about the madness of gun violence. It provided a way to have a thoughtful conversation on the topic, something occasionally missing at Republican events.
For what it’s worth, here is part of Bush’s response:
“I think the impulse to do something whenever we have these tragedies inevitably impacts the 99.99% of people that uses firearms appropriately,” Bush began. “Who use it for recreational purposes, they use it for protection of their homes, they use it for the right reasons. I’m always nervous of this desire to do something where the net result is you don’t solve the problem, you’re taking people’s rights away.”
“To give you a quick summary of my record. Every year we added to the support of the 2nd Amendment and gun rights for law-abiding citizens. We have 1,200,000 people that have a concealed weapons permit in Florida … these are people who have to get trained, they have to have a background check, but they can carry. And the net result of tougher crimes [I think he meant “punishment”] on people who commit violent crimes and a citizenry that is packing, in effect, is that crime rates have dropped every year for a long while, and violent crime has dropped dramatically. Across the board we tried to protect 2nd Amendment rights…”
“As it relates to these violent acts – the one common denominator is these are deranged people. These are completely deranged people. They have severe mental health issues. In every case, there was the possibility of intervening, but it didn’t happen. Either there was no knowledge at all, or there was peripheral connection to the mental health network, but there was no follow-through. So I think the one place that we need to focus on is how do we deal with the holes in our mental health network in this country, so that when people are spiraling out of control, they’re identified and they get help…”
“And it seems like it’s hard for us today to stay connected with one another to identify this before it gets out of control. And you can live a life by yourself in the Internet and gain, the impulse you have can be validated and magnified over the Internet in a way that makes this really dangerous…”
“And state laws need to be modified that makes sure that the databases that are checked are serious about identifying people who had access to mental health networks so they can’t purchase a gun … If you have been identified with a serious mental health challenge, maybe you’ve been in the criminal justice system and your adjudication was withheld, and under normal circumstances you can get a gun, but you have evidence of a mental health illness, a serious problem, I don’t think you should be able to get a gun. And I think the NRA and other groups would support that mission as well.”
Of course, Bush doesn’t support expanding background checks for gun purchases at the federal level, so it’s questionable how serious his focus on mental health screening really is.
Afterward, Baugh said he appreciated Bush’s response, saying it “sounding like something a rational person would say.” He said at least Bush had a plan, though he wished Bush could have elaborated more on how to improve the mental health system.
by Pat Rynard