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Area lawmakers expect to discuss mental health, gun control
Newtown killings may prompt Ga. bills
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School gun violence has touched community after community that never thought it would happen there. With Friday’s mass school shooting in Connecticut leaving 20 first-grade children and seven adults dead, new debate about the hot-button issue of gun control is sparking back up as legislators around the country, including in North Georgia, consider what’s best for their community, state and nation.

“It’s paramount that we protect the innocent lives of our young people,” said Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville. “Our hearts go out to the families and all those affected by this tragedy beyond measure.”

Other Gainesville-Hall delegation members said they believe legislation on issues surrounding the mass killing will come up in the state’s legislative session starting next month, including concealed weapons, mental health services and gun ownership rights and responsibilities. Miller said he can’t remember a legislative session when these topics haven’t come up.

Newtown, Conn., was the latest site of a string of shootings. A gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning and fired bullets into kids, teachers and staff in classrooms. The shooter, identified by police and in media reports as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, is also suspected of killing his mother. He apparently took his own life at the scene.

News reports show that since July, mass shootings have happened in Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota and last week in Connecticut. Mental illness is suspected to play a part in the violence. Gainesville state Rep. Carl Rogers said the government has to find a way to identify these people before similar disasters strike. Rogers, a gun owner himself, said the elected leaders need to listen to law enforcement, psychiatrists and the public on the issue. Fellow delegation member and Republican Lee Hawkins said he’s a strong supporter of the Second Amendment of the Constitution and would be reluctant to infringe on the right to bear arms.

“It’s not the weapon that kills someone, it’s the person that kills someone,” Rogers said.

U.S. Rep.-elect Doug Collins, R-Ga, was endorsed by the National Rifle Association during his successful race for the House of Representatives. He said as a minister he has consoled people through many difficult situations and “my thoughts and prayers will forever be with those families who are hurting from the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn.”

Collins said he was honored when he was endorsed by the NRA and will fight in Congress to defend his district’s Second Amendment rights.

“As the son of a retired Georgia state patrolman, I was taught at a young age to respect guns and the rights of gun owners. This is a tradition I have passed down to my sons, and one I plan to teach my grandchildren,” he said.

The NRA issued its first comment on the Connecticut shooting Tuesday on the group’s Facebook page. It said “The NRA is made up of four million moms and dads, sons and daughters — and we were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown.”

Legislation is only part of the solution, Miller said. There needs to be more awareness and less stigma of mental illness.

“Legislation itself is not the answer,” he said.

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