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Hints of Gun-Control Revival After Fort Hood Shooting, But Broader Focus on Mental Health

Initial reaction in Washington to the latest Fort Hood mass shooting revolved more around mental health treatment quandaries than a revival of last year’s gun control efforts, though proponents of the post-Sandy Hook legislative drive hinted at revisiting a stringent background check bill.

Spc. Ivan Lopez, 34, bought his .45-caliber handgun on March 1 at Guns Galore, a Killeen shop where Nidal Hasan bought his FN Five-Seven tactical pistol in 2009 and where Naser Jason Abdo, arrested in a 2011 plot to attack Fort Hood, bought his weapons.

Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley confirmed that Lopez, of Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, was currently assigned to 49th Transportation Movement Control Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary). He was previously assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas, and assigned to the 1st Armored Division from April 2010 until November 2013 as an automatic rifleman. He reclassified as a motor transport operator in December 2013 and arrived at Fort Hood in February 2014.

Lopez deployed to Egypt from January 2007 to January 2008, and to Iraq from August 2011 to December 2011, according to Fort Hood’s press office. He earned three Army Good Conduct Medals, two Army Commendation Medals, and four Army Achievement Medals.

Three soldiers were killed and 16 were wounded in the Wednesday afternoon shooting.

“We have very strong evidence that he had a medical history that indicates unstable psychiatric or psychological condition. Going through all of the records to ensure that that is in fact correct but we believe that to be the fundamental underlying causal factor,” Milley told reporters at a press conference, adding that there’s “a strong possibility” that an argument with another solider preceded the shooting.

“As you know, Fort Hood is a big installation…We’ve got a population well over 100,000 here,” the commander added. “It would not be realistic to do a pat-down search in every single soldier and an employee at Fort Hood for a weapon on a daily basis. That would be unrealistic.”

After Milley confirmed Lopez’s Guns Galore purchase, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters “mental health issues are the most vexing in terms of how do we identify those who have problems that they need to be helped with.”

“And I think at the same time we have to be very careful and not paint with too broad of a brush and assume because someone has been in combat that they necessarily have those issues. We shouldn’t stigmatize healthy people who are resilient and able to deal with those stresses. We ought to identify those people the best we can who do need help and get them the help that they need,” Cornyn said.

“And this remains, to me, one of the most vexing but also one of the most urgent issues, not just with regard to the military but the mass shooting incidents that we’ve seen, not only on military installations but in our country, period.”

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), a retired judge who represents Fort Hood, told CNN that the store “probably” didn’t miss anything in Lopez’s background check.

“We run fairly good background checks and a lot of it is answering questions — people that are there to do wrong can lie on the questionnaire just like you can go to a doctor and lie about your diagnosis if it suits your purposes. I think it — but it was legally purchased and he went through a background check because you can’t purchase a weapon without at least the criminal background check,” Carter added.

Regarding the prospect of concealed carry on base, Carter said, “I think the Army knows the Army’s business best.”

Some members who have vociferously supported gun control were careful in their initial reactions to focus on the broader issue of base security.

“This is the second time that an incident like this has occurred. This is a threat to our national security and a threat to the men and women in the United States military. It is time now to formulate a serious Homeland Security response that makes this base impenetrable,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (R-Texas) said in a statement this morning.

“The last shooting on November 5, 2009, I mourned with the Fort Hood family and we said never again,” she added. “Now, we have to question the security of this base and demand zero tolerance for security breaches on our military bases and government facilities. This should not happen on our domestic soil.”

Thursday was a pre-planned lobbying day for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which urged supporters to flood senators with phone calls as pro-gun rights groups made their way through meetings with lawmakers.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a key force behind last year’s failed gun control bill, said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today that “this experience shows that no part of our country, no place, is immune from gun violence.”

“And whether it is a small school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, or an urban community in New Haven, or one of the great military installations in the world, Fort Hood, everybody shares in the tragedies that needless and senseless gun violence causes in this country today,” Blumenthal said. “And this experience I think also shows, as a number of my colleagues have observed, the importance of mental health care.”

Acknowledging that the investigation was in its beginning stages, the senator asked Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno if there is “enough screening of individuals to know whether they are dangerous.”

“The individual was screened, was receiving counseling. So in a lot of ways, the system worked. But, obviously, it didn’t work completely, because, in the end, he made some decisions that obviously cost other people’s lives,” Odierno said.

“…One of the issues we run into all the time is the sharing of information, trying to protect individual’s rights but also trying to ensure that we are providing them with the help necessary.”

The general said they needed to “combat the stigma of coming forward with behavior health issues,” though as he noted Lopez was receiving treatment.

Army Secretary John McHugh added that “behavioral health encounters” in the Army have increased by over 90 percent.

“Clearly, we may have missed something yesterday,” McHugh said. “We need to work very hard to understand what that might have been, and if we can learn a lesson and improve the process, that’s what we want to do.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Odierno whether “one way to deal with attacks like this is to have installations where people are armed and can fight back.”

“I believe that we have our military police and others that are armed. And I believe that’s appropriate. And I think that — I believe that that allows us the level of protection necessary,” Odierno replied. “Although we carry arms quite regularly overseas when we’re deployed and do it on a regular basis, I believe back here in the United States it’s more appropriate that we leave it to that, sir.”

At the daily White House press briefing, spokesman Jay Carney was asked what the administration would say “to people who are just demoralized at the prospect that anything will ever be done at the federal level to fight gun violence.”

Carney stated he didn’t want to “have comments I make about the broader subject be suggestive of anything specific about that incident.”

“What I can say is that the president made abundantly clear his disappointment and frustration with Congress and its failure to listen to the overwhelming majority of the American people when they made clear they wanted to see the background check system made more effective and expanded. That was a proposition that, in no way, violated our Second Amendment rights, rights which the president supports,” he continued.

“And the president also made clear at the time that he would continue executing on the broader plan that the vice president and he developed to reduce gun violence in America, which included in addition to pushing that specific piece of legislation, a number — more than 20 — executive actions that the administration could take. And there has been action on all of them, as well a some additional ones,” Carney said.

“So I think that there is certainly reason to be frustrated, as the president was and is by the failure of Congress to act on something so common sense. But that doesn’t mean you give up on efforts that remain possible. And that’s why the president has taken the steps he’s taken and we’ll continue to look for ways to implement common-sense solutions to this very challenging problem.”