The mass shootings in Ohio and Texas were on the minds of many Tuesday at the Floyd County Republican Women’s luncheon where U.S. Rep. Tom Graves was the guest speaker.
Graves, home for the August recess, talked about the partisan divisions in Congress and decried what he called the majority House Democrats’ continuing attacks on President Donald Trump.
“There’s a different group in the House now ... I couldn’t be more happy to be here,” he told the more than 50 people crammed into the event room at Red Lobster.
During the question-and-answer period, however, several people drilled in on the weekend massacres in Dayton and El Paso where 31 people were killed and dozens wounded. Trump’s rhetoric and access to guns — two of the issues in the national debate — did not come up. Mental illness and law enforcement did.
Ansley Saville asked if there’s a correlation to the closing of mental institutions, adding that “the homeless population blew up” in Rome when Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital was shuttered.
“There’s a lot of focus on the mental health issue,” Graves said, noting that the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act “emphasized the need for more investment and understanding.”
Signed into law by President Barack Obama in late 2016, the Cures Act included provisions to increase the number of psychiatric hospital beds and establish a new office for mental health and substance use disorders. But Graves said it’s still a balancing act between background checks and health privacy rights.
“How do you understand somebody’s state of mind earlier? How do you ID a motivation that may lead to action before it happens?” he said.
Emily Matson, who described herself as “a big Second Amendment person,” asked about reports that El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles said law enforcement can’t deal with the number of guns available.
Graves said it’s a question of keeping them out of the wrong hands — which is what Wiles urged in a lengthy Facebook statement.
“I haven’t heard any law enforcement say law-abiding gun owners shouldn’t have guns. I’m hearing we need more enforcement of the laws on who can have guns,” Graves said. “That’s not a local responsibility. That’s the (U.S. Department of Justice.)”
Diane Lewis said that, as Congress moves to address gun violence, “you don’t have to do it alone.” She spoke of the “troubled young man” who opened fire in a Florida high school last year — and successful programs in local schools that have redirected at-risk youth.
“It’s people here in this community, working together to find and help the young people who feel marginalized ... Sometimes those solutions have nothing to do with weapons, but with saving a soul,” Lewis said.
Graves agreed, adding that, “Evil is not something you can legislate away.”
He urged attendees to take the time to reach out to neighbors who seem to be “in a dark spot.”
“Embrace each other. Embrace our communities. And if we see something, say something,” Graves said.