In Oklahoma, political focus is on mental health, not guns

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Kevin Stitt listens to a question during a Governor candidate forum at First United Methodist Church in Tulsa on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier
In the days following two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, Oklahoma politicians have affirmed their support for guns and said the focus should be on mental health laws rather than firearm regulations.

Patrick Crusius, 21, an Allen, Texas, man, allegedly traveled to El Paso on Aug. 3 and killed 22 people inside a Walmart store popular with Hispanic shoppers. Less than 24 hours later, 24-year-old Connor Betts allegedly opened fire near a bar in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people and injuring more than two dozen others. Crusius was arrested without incident; Betts was killed by authorities.

The El Paso shooter was linked to an anti-immigrant manifesto that was posted online that made several anti-immigrant statements that echoed those of President Donald Trump. The shooter in Ohio reportedly expressed support for Elizabeth Warren on a since-suspended Twitter account and referred to himself online as a Satanist. The Associated Press reported Betts was formerly suspended at his high school for compiling a “rape list” and a “hit” list with names of other students.

Oklahoma’s governor and three congressional delegates issued statements to The Frontier this week following the mass shootings, and another spoke to television station KTUL following a recent speech in Tulsa.

Gov. Kevin Stitt, Sen. Jim Inhofe and representatives Markwayne Mullin, Tom Cole and Kevin Hern all expressed support for bolstering mental health assistance while also affirming support for firearms.

Kevin Stitt speaks during a Governor candidate forum at First United Methodist Church in Tulsa on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Stitt said he heard on the campaign trail from Oklahomans “about their support for constitutional carry,” and said that shootings like those in Texas and Ohio aren’t “a firearm issue.”

“Those engaging in this atrocious behavior are showing that they will turn anything into a weapon in order to gain attention through violence,” Stitt said.

Stitt said Oklahomans “must strongly condemn white supremacy” and “place a strong emphasis on mental health.”

He said his fiscal year 2020 budget included more funding for the state’s “Mental Health Department” and his criminal justice task force includes a subcommittee “specifically focused on helping Oklahoma better identify red flags earlier in a child’s life so we can intervene and prevent a person from choosing a life of violence and crime.”

“There is much to be done, but it starts with looking at what we can do to help the young generation,” Stitt said.

Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin. Courtesy.

Mullin said “horrific acts of violence have no place in our country and we have to come together to take action.”

“But,” Mullin added, “changing our Constitutional rights isn’t an option.”

Mullin said that “as President Trump stated … we need to address mental health laws.”

Mullin pointed to his support of reforming federal regulations around the disclosure of patient medical records that would help address mental health laws, though the reforms he was referencing, 42 CFR Part 2, appear to mostly deal with substance abuse records.

Mullin also pointed to Oklahoma’s status as one of eight states in the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic program, which “helps people get the mental health treatment they need, instead of locking up people who have a mental health issue and substance use disorder.”

Mullin said the program needs “to expand to all 50 states and territories.”

Inhofe, in a statement, said Congress has “done a lot to address the complex issue of gun violence.”

U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. Courtesy.

Inhofe said he looks forward to working with Trump “to stop mass murders before they take place” and focused on promoting cooperation between local and federal law enforcement, promoting “greater transparency and accountability for hateful online rhetoric,” and “taking a hard look at our mental health laws.”

“We must do this while maintaining the right to due process and upholding the Second Amendment.”

Hern, speaking to television station KTUL and other reporters following a speech at the Tulsa Rotary Club this week, said he’s “had guns my entire life,” he “took guns to school when I was younger,” and that “this is not about restricting the Second Amendment rights for rightful gun owners like myself.”

“Gun owners is not the issue … it’s the people who want to do bad things to people,” Hern said.

Hern said there are “people who have this tremendous hate,” and “whether it’s 9/11 or whether it’s issues like driving trucks down sidewalks like we’ve seen in Paris, or whether it’s these mass violence shootings … “(there) is tremendous hate we have in this country and we’ve got to stop it, we’ve got to stop the rhetoric around it.”

Kevin Hern. Courtesy.

Hern said “it’s mental health issues” at the root of mass shootings, and added, “We don’t have as many mental health institutions as we used to where people can actually get help.”

He said the Dayton, Ohio, shooter said he “was satanic, he was a devil worshipper,” and said “that’s a different motive from the person that was down in El Paso, where he states a manifesto and clearly lays out all kinds of nonsense.”

“We have to balance the right equation between protecting our First Amendment Rights, our Second Amendment Rights, our Fourth Amendment rights,” Hern said. “Doing what we’ve been doing and expecting different results is just not going to work.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-4th District

Rep. Tom Cole said in a statement that Americans “must together condemn such hate from taking root in our communities.”

Representatives Kendra Horn (who was out of the country), Frank Lucas and Kevin Hern did not respond to requests for comment. Senator James Lankford also did not respond to requests for comment.

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Dylan Goforth

Editor in Chief/Staff Writer

Dylan has two kids, three dogs, and no time to himself. He's fueled by QuikTrip and Twitter. Contact: dylan@readfrontier.com or 918-931-9405.
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