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Walker on Gun Control: Congress Should ‘Free Up’ Mental Health Information

Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) leaves the House Ways and Means Committee hearing room on Nov. 2, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) told PJM that Congress should consider making changes to the nation’s mental health privacy laws as a possible way to prevent firearms from getting into the wrong hands.

Walker, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, was asked if he agrees with allowing family members to petition a court to remove firearms from a relative.

“I think the step before you have to look at that is under our mental health laws. When you have HIPAA violations, sometimes family members can’t even get the information they need to be able to help make those decisions, so I’m not pushing back to say the proposal you made is not one that needs to be incorporated but I think the first step is we have to free up that information,” Walker told PJM on Capitol Hill recently. “Sometimes [family members] are not even able to report it to the proper authorities to be able to warrant such a situation.”

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) “sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive” an individual’s personal health information.

Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in February, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) proposed the Gun Violence Restraining Order Act that would allow a family member of an individual to “submit an application to a state court” for issuance of a gun violence restraining order.

If the order is issued, “the Department of Justice and comparable state agency shall update the background check databases of the department and agency,” the bill reads.

American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, a Fox News contributor, told PJM that the GOP is not having a “change of heart” on gun control policy but they’re “trying to figure out where they are in terms of should there be any fine-tuning to our regulations.”

“I think almost everybody here is a very strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but are the background checks being done perfectly?” Schlapp said during an interview with PJM at the recent Conservative Political Action conference.

“A long time ago the NRA had a lot of gun-rights groups starting to advocate for background checks and an instant background check, and the problem is you realize it is a very imperfect background check,” he added. “And I think there’s a lot of conservatives that say you should find ways to make sure that it’s the same for everybody.”

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has signaled that he would support increasing the age from 18 to 21 for the purchase of a semi-automatic rifle.

“Certainly, nobody under 21 should have an AR-15,” he said.

Schlapp was asked if he agreed.

“I don’t know. I’m willing to look at it. I don’t know what the age requirements are for all kinds of different guns and firearms. But I would just say this: I have five girls, and if I had a daughter who was being stalked by somebody, she’s 20 years old, living in an apartment by herself, if she had the appropriate training to use a firearm, I’m OK with her having that, especially if she’s feeling like her safety is at stake,” he replied.

“I think you’ve got to remember a lot of people own firearms because they’re older and they worry about their security, they’re single and they worry about their security, they might live in cities that have high crime rates,” he added.

Schlapp cited cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C., as examples.

“These are cities where you can understand why people would want to have personal protection. Of course, those are the same cities where they don’t allow them to own much of anything, which is kind of a big part of this as well,” he said. “So I like the idea of people taking account of their personal safety.”

In response to President Trump’s support for arming trained teachers, Schlapp said he would not want teachers to feel like they had to carry.

“Look, almost every state has passed concealed carry, almost every state. This is something that’s the law of the land in most jurisdictions, but I wouldn’t want any teacher to feel like they have to. I think that’s a very personal decision. Some people just hate guns. They hate the idea of being near a gun and they shouldn’t have to be near a gun,” he said.

“But there are other people that are professionals, that have gotten the certification, they’ve gotten the training and they enjoy target shooting. I’m OK with those folks being armed,” he added. “And I’ll tell you one thing: I want to be able to drop my kids off at school and to know they are safe and I think everybody feels that way, and that’s not the case now.”

Schlapp disagreed with the calls from Democrats for reviving the assault weapons ban.

“I have to say, this is just where they’re playing politics. The assault weapons ban went away when President Bush was president and you didn’t hear from any Democrats when it went away. They bring up issues like the minimum wage and gun control, I believe, when it’s the optimal time to push politics. Barack Obama had big majorities in the House and the Senate, there was no Obama bill, no Pelosi bill to reiterate the semi-automatic weapons ban. So, it’s interesting it’s always done when they are trying to put the Republicans on the defense,” Schlapp said.

“They shouldn’t be talking politics about this. They should look at these ideas and see what can get passed and see what’s consistent with the Second Amendment and our philosophy. I do think the country will punish politicians that are not willing to listen and listen to these victims and listen to the problems in the background system, listen to the problems these communities are having, listen to the problems these schools are having. I think this is a time when we all ought to listen more.”