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How do you feel President Trump’s visits to El Paso and Dayton went?
Senator Coons: Well, I think it’s important that our President, when we have tragedies, national tragedies, make a visit, be with those who are suffering, be with those who are trying to make sense of these tragedies. I think it’s also important for all of us who are elected to serve our nation to find ways to come together and to address the problem. It’s great to provide comfort and prayers, but it’s more important that we take bipartisan action.
How do you feel about comments calling President Trump a white supremacist or a racist?
Senator Coons: I was pleased to hear President Trump directly denounce white supremacists and say that hate doesn’t belong in our country, but I also think he needs to address his rhetoric. And I think that we’re in for a rough presidential season if there is more and more divisive rhetoric on both sides. I was puzzled by the ways in which the President attacked some of the folks—the Mayor of Dayton, Senator Sherrod Brown—after their visit. There seems to be a disagreement about who said what about whom, when, in those visits. The larger point, frankly, here is that we need to find ways to legislate together. And the President’s leadership on taking real steps on background checks will be critical. Both the Governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine, and the Congressman from Dayton, Mike Turner, and the Republican Senator from Ohio, Rob Portman, have now stepped forward and called for more decisive action. There is legislation we can take up and pass.
What would expanded background checks look like?
Senator Coons: I was encouraged because Senator Toomey and I have a bill, the NICS Denial Notification Act, that Chairman Graham of the Judiciary Committee, with whom I also spoke, has already said he thinks can and should pass. All my bill with Pat Toomey would do is make sure state and local law enforcement is promptly notified if someone who is a convicted felon, someone who is prohibited by law from buying a gun, goes into a gun store and lies and tries to buy a gun. In my state and more than thirty other states currently, that information goes nowhere. In Pennsylvania, state police are the intermediary with the NICS system. They know about it. In some cases, they act promptly. Broader background checks, such as the Manchin-Toomey bill, would close some of the loopholes that currently exist – the gun show loophole, for example. And this is broadly supported by Americans who are Democrats, Independents, Republicans, by a majority of gun owners, because it simply means there would be one more layer of protection to ensure that those Americans who are exercising their Second Amendment right are doing so responsibly and that we are taking action to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.
What can we do to protect privacy and due process, but also prevent people with violent intentions from owning a gun?
Senator Coons: Back in March, we had a constructive hearing on the Senate Judiciary Committee about these emergency risk protection orders, or so-called “red flag” laws. We have one in Delaware. I think we can and should have one federally that allows family members, that allows law enforcement, with due process, to take notice of the fact that an individual is doing things, like you just referenced, making kill lists and threatening to kill people, and speaking to their teachers and classmates and parents in a way that’s genuinely disturbing. The Parkland shooter was someone who had engaged in that kind of a pattern. His own family, if I remember correctly, had called the police and said, “He is going to do something terrible. We need help.” We have to make it easier for families, for health care professionals, for teachers, and law enforcement, with due process, in those emergency situations, to take action. I think we need to do all of these – background checks, “red flag” laws, the NICS Denial Act. This is going to take Presidential leadership. And a great way that President Trump can bring us together is to show leadership on this issue.