Gun Laws Should Target Violent People, Not Mentally Ill, Rep. Schakowsky and Armstrong Say

Watch the full interview on ASP

While gun legislation struggles to gain bipartisan support, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that gun laws should target violent people over those who are mentally ill.

In a new video produced by civic engagement organization A Starting Point, Democrat Representative Jan Schakowsky and GOP Representative Kelly Armstrong discussed the link between guns and mental health.

During the discussion, both lawmakers emphasized the importance of restricting guns from those with a history of using firearms in an aggressive way rather than from those struggling with mental health issues.

"A person with mental illness, it has been shown, is actually more likely—that person is more likely to hurt him or herself than others," Schakowsky said. "I think the place to look is really more on people who have a history of violence, perhaps domestic violence, hate speech, hate action—actually doing something—and people who have a history of using a gun in an aggressive way."

"We want to make sure we are taking guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them," Armstrong said.

When asked what conditions should disqualify someone from gun ownership, Armstrong said, "Domestic violence protection orders, some misdemeanor crimes of assault, but any violent felonies where you have either had the opportunity for a jury trial or plead guilty...because they've one, had due process and two, have been prohibited."

Guns
Few rifles remain on the shelf at Caso's Gun-A-Rama store on March 25, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Representatives Jan Schakowsky And Kelly Armstrong discussed the link between gun ownership and mental health in a new video from civic media organization A Starting Point. Spencer Platt/Getty

The congressman from North Dakota even went as far as to say that some Americans dealing with mental health issues are unjustly banned by legislation, like red flag laws, from owning guns.

"In theory, it makes sense when you talk to people about it, but I think in practice, if anybody's ever filled out that federal firearms form, there's a question on there that says, 'Have you ever been adjudicated mentally deficient?'" he said.

"Well, taking a gun away from a college freshman, who somebody's worried about being suicidal because he just had a really bad breakup, and doing that in a temporary process—where they get due process, where they do all of that—doesn't change the second part of that question where 10 years down the line, if he's trying to buy a gun to go hunting, he's probably still prohibited under federal law," Armstrong explained.

However, Schakowsky disagreed, voicing her support for red flag laws, which permit law enforcement or family members to petition the temporary removal of firearms from a person who might be a danger to others or themselves. These laws exist under various names in 19 states.

"The red flag gun laws would say that someone close, like a parent, could say, 'I know that my son is a dangerous person and he does have a gun and it should be taken away,'" she said. "I think that that's probably a good idea. The mental health field is not crazy about this red flag idea but I understand that."

"The thing about guns is they're a very efficient way to kill yourself," the Illinois congresswomen added. "And so the more guns that we have available, the more people who are going to kill themselves, and those who might be able to avail themselves to mental health services, it's too late."

Armstrong also said that law enforcement officials and teachers have been asked to interact in a mental health capacity "way more than they should." He argued that gun reform should not only includes restrictions, but should also include investments into prosecutions, mental health and school safety.

The gun debate has become a top priority for lawmakers in recent weeks after a surge in mass shootings last month, including one in Atlanta and one in Boulder, Colorado, which took place within the same week.

"These mass shootings are a very American phenomenon," Armstrong said. "We are also the only country with a Second Amendment, so we have unique constraints on how the government interacts with these rights that other countries don't."