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Barrasso says he welcomes debate about gun control
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., fielded a question from Riverton Kiwanian Mike Zirbel during Barrasso's recent visit to Riverton. Photo by Daniel Gallegos

Barrasso says he welcomes debate about gun control

Mar 1, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

The senator said he is concerned about recent legislation that would ban more than 100 firearms.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., discussed the future of gun control during a meeting of the Riverton Kiwanis Club this month.

He approached the topic by first remembering the tragedy that took place last year at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"I think all of us were heartsick when we heard what happened," Barrasso said. "But the question is, how do you pass a law to make sure it never happens again? When something like this happens, the person has broken so many laws."

He is concerned about legislation introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., which would place bans on more than 100 firearms, including semiautomatic weapons with fixed magazines of more than 10 rounds, according to published reports.

"(She has) a list of about 120 guns she wants to take off the market," Barrasso said. "(It's) an assault weapon ban."

Through Feinstein's law, people who already own firearms that appear on the banned list would have to register their weapons, undergoing a background check, among other measures. Barrasso wondered how extensive the background check would be.

"(Does it) include fingerprinting people (or consulting a) mental health counselor?" he asked. "I'm planning to resist all of these and see if it ever gets to the floor of the Senate for discussion."

With several Senate Democrats coming up for election in states that did not show strong support for President Barack Obama in 2012, Barrasso said it's unlikely any bills related to gun control will be voted on in the near future.

"(These senators) don't want to vote on any of this stuff," Barrasso said. "They don't want to have to choose between what the president wants and what their own constituents at home want."

Regardless, he said he welcomes a debate about Constitutional rights and the Second Amendment. In his opinion, the Second Amendment does not refer only to well-regulated militias.

"I say it has to do with individual rights to hold guns," Barrasso said.

He added that the Bill of Rights was not designed to protect the government from the people.

"It was meant to protect people from the government," Barrasso said. "(It outlines) what the government couldn't take away from people."

Mental health

One audience member asked Barrasso to elaborate on the mental health component of the problem. In response, the senator talked about his time in medical school, when it was easier to prescribe mandatory mental help to a patient believed to be dangerous. Now, he said, the process is not as streamlined.

"You can't sign commitment papers as a physician unless the person is in imminent, immediate danger of suicide," Barrasso said. "You can't do today what psychiatrists and mental health people could do 25 years ago."

He mentioned Jared Lee Loughner, who attacked a group of people including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during a 2011 constituent meeting in Arizona.

"So many people said, 'We knew (Loughner was dangerous) but we couldn't do anything about it until he created a crime,'" Barrasso said. "And in Connecticut, (the shooter's) mother was trying to get him committed for care."

In Wyoming, he said, there is a shortage when it comes to mental health professionals, and the problem has to do with recruitment. He tied the question to the Affordable Care Act and related changes that have been made to the nation's health care system.

"There aren't actually enough people to provide the care the president is (mandating)," Barrasso said.

Other topics

When speaking about the nation's debt, Barrasso called for a Constitutional amendment that requires a balanced budget every year.

"I talk to people in Wyoming who say, 'I'd pay a little more (taxes) if I knew it was actually going to go to pay off the debt,'" Barrasso said. "We're spending too much. ... I say let's wait until we get the Constitutional amendment (before we raise taxes)."

During his time with the Kiwanis Club he also touched on the importance of energy development as well as the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan.

"We have to leave some troops behind to help with additional training, but for the most part significant numbers of our troops are going to be able to come home," Barrasso said. "The soldiers from Wyoming ... agree that the Afghan troops are ready to fight."

The physician spent five years in the Wyoming State Senate before joining the U.S. Senate in 2007. He was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012 to serve a full six-year term.

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