Candidates discuss guns, mental health
Roanoke Times - 10/30/2017
Two Lynchburg residents competing for the 23rd District House of Delegates seat recently spoke about their stances on gun violence and gun control.
Incumbent Republican Del. Scott Garrett has represented District 23 - which covers portions of Bedford and Amherst counties and the city of Lynchburg - since 2010.
His opponent, Democrat Natalie Short, a stay-at-home mother, has not held office before, though she did pursue a political science degree at one point.
Though neither candidate owns a gun, Short said she's "all about protecting the Second Amendment." Garrett echoed that sentiment.
"I think the greatest challenge we have in defending the Second Amendment is not in defining it, but in defending it," he said.
Following the Oct. 1 Las Vegas shooting, Gov. Terry McAuliffe proposed banning bump stocks, military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines in Virginia.
Bump stocks are devices that can be attached to semi-automatic weapons and use the gun's recoil when shooting to increase the rate of fire, allowing the user to simulate the rate of fire of a fully automatic weapon, according to The Associated Press.
Short is for banning the devices. Garrett agrees, though he said he'd like to hold the device in his hands to "speak intelligently to it."
Short, who supports a high-capacity magazine ban and legislation that allows Virginians to only buy one firearm per month, said there should be a limit to the amount of ammunition a person has in their possession at one time.
Garrett does not believe "military-style assault rifles" should be banned.
"The Constitution says you have the right to keep and bear arms - it doesn't say you have the right to keep and bear a .22-pistol or a 9 mm Glock or a[n] assault rifle of some nature," Garrett said. "It doesn't define the type of weapon ... and for them to have not defined, you know, 'Thou shalt have access to a ... musket, not to a whatever was the pistol of the day and so forth,' you know, I think that probably has some meaning that we should be at least contemplative of today."
However, Garrett did say the federal government was right to ban automatic weapons. "I think we probably got it right at the federal level, at least at the moment, that automatic weapons weren't intended by our founders and are illegal today," he said.
Short, however, supports the ban and said there's no need for a regular citizen who is using a gun for hunting, home defense or building a collection to have such a weapon.
"There's no reason that we need to have assault rifles to go hunting," she said. "We don't need thousands of rounds of ammunition to go hunting." Both candidates said gun control isn't necessarily the first step in addressing the increasing frequency and deadliness of mass shootings in the United States.
Garrett said the trend has two main causes: mental health and the dissolution of the family unit.
"People want to say it's the guns that have killed these folks," Garrett said. "It's not the guns; it's the person behind the gun that's pulling the trigger."
The next step in addressing mass shootings and gun violence needs to be strengthening mental health safety nets, Garrett said.
But much of contemporary mental health issues stems from family dissolution, he added. "I think there is a great blurring today, particularly in young people, in a deeper understanding of the difference between right and wrong."
Short pointed to collecting data on gun violence as the first step, though acknowledged the need for greater access to mental health care providers.
Mental health issues are a big problem in the area, she said. After speaking with constituents and mental health providers, some issues stood out to Short.
"It can take months to get an appointment with a psychiatrist, to be able to get your medicine - that's absolutely ridiculous," she said. "If people can't function, they can't live, they can't go to work, they can't make their bills."
But Short said having information on gun violence is the most important step right now.
"My biggest thing is that I feel like the public needs to have the information, they need to have the correct facts," she said. "The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] needs to be able to do their research."
The CDC hasn't conducted gun violence research since 1996, when an amendment to the fiscal year 1997 spending bill - stating none of the previous $2.6 million in "funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control" - was passed.
Former President Barack Obama issued an executive order demanding research on gun violence from the CDC in 2013 and requested $10 million from Congress for CDC gun violence research multiple times, but his requests were denied, and the agency has been slow to study gun violence since the order.
Once some research has been conducted, only then can informed decisions be made, Short said.
"Because I really believe in people," she said.
"I believe people know right from wrong. I believe people have compassion.
"If they knew exactly what was happening, they wouldn't feel like they need to just stockpile guns."We don't have a motive for Las Vegas," she said. "We don't have the information. We don't have what we need."
ABOUT THE 23RD DISTRICT
The 23rd District seat represents parts of Lynchburg, Bedford County and Amherst County. Nearly two-thirds of the district's voters are in Lynchburg, about a quarter are in Bedord county and 12 percent are in Amherst County. Voters in the district tend to favor Republican candidates in statewide elections by a margin of more than 60 percent.
Political affiliation: Republican
Lives in: Lynchburg
Education: Undergraduate and medical degrees, University of Virginia
Family: Married, two children
For more information: www.tscottgarrett.com
Political affiliation: Democrat
Lives in: Lynchburg
Occupation: Stay-at-home mother
Education: Rocky Mountain School of Photography graduate
Family: Married, two children
For more information: www.natalieshortfordelegate.com