Grassley, Ernst deflect criticism of gun, mental health bill

Published: Feb. 16, 2018 at 6:27 PM CST
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Iowa Republican Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst are deflecting criticism surrounding their response to the Florida school shooting. That's because both supported a bill a year ago that eliminated a rule to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental health issues.

Last year, Sen. Grassley introduced H.J.Res.40 and Sen. Ernst voted for it. The bill eliminated a proposed rule change that would have required the Social Security Administration report to the FBI any individuals receiving benefits for severe mental illness. That would put them on a national background check to prevent those individuals from buying a gun.

In the Florida school shooting, there is no indication the shooter ever received such payments. Despite behavioral issues, the gunman was able to legally purchase the rifle he used in the shooting a year ago, around the same time H.J.Res.40 passed.

In statements today, Senator Grassley pointed the blame at the FBI for missing warning signs and tips about the gunman before the shooting.

“Existing laws and regulations preventing guns from falling into the wrong hands are still on the books, and federal agencies should comply with them," Sen. Grassley said in a statement to KCRG-TV9. "The regulation addressed last year allowed bureaucrats to take away rights without even determining someone was mentally ill. It was opposed by mental health and civil rights groups.

"In the case in Florida, it appears the FBI failed to do its job on several occasions.”

Ernst also defended her vote, saying the proposed rule would have undermined the Second Amendment by putting a blanket ban on some social security recipients, some of whom might not be dangerous.

"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 said. "This legislation ensures that law-abiding Iowans’ constitutional due process and Second Amendment rights are protected.”

In the wake of the shooting this week that killed 17 students, both of Iowa's Senators blamed mental health as the ultimate culprit of many mass shootings.

"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," ” Ernst told reporters in a conference call on Thursday.

"It seems to be common for a lot of these shootings, in fact almost all of the shootings, is the mental state of the people," Sen. Grassley told reporters Thursday. "And we have not done a very good job of making sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to handle a gun getting their name into the FBI files and we need to concentrate on that."