INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana legislators said Monday it's important to look at the underlying causes of the deadly school shooting in Connecticut instead of enacting laws that punish gun owners.
Statehouse officials and gun rights advocates cited school security and social decline as factors in the increase in mass violence, but some conservatives said more needs to be done to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill individuals.
"It's a hard issue to say how do we get the mental health treatment to people who need it, how do we fund that, how do we identify those," said Indianapolis attorney Guy Relford, who has filed lawsuits to make sure local governments and employers comply with state laws that allow concealed carry or let people keep guns in their cars at work.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said Indiana already restricts the sales of guns to people who a court determines are mentally ill, and requires courts to share their names with a national gun purchasing clearinghouse.
"So we have examined the issue in the past," Bosma said. "No doubt the recent tragedy will result in a ... national discussion on school safety and the intersection of legal gun safety and our mental health system."
Democratic state Rep. Ed DeLaney said the state should do anything it can to identify and treat people with several mental illnesses.
Joshua Sprunger, Indiana director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said Indiana slashed state spending on mental health programs by 9 percent over the last fiscal year — the second largest cut in the country.
He said mental health advocates are pushing a more comprehensive approach to diagnosing and treating mental illness, one that involves several different agencies.
"It's going to take increased state funding and leadership at the state level," he said.
But state Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, who authored a 2011 law that makes it possible for people with permits to carry guns in most public places, said shooters aren't always mentally ill. He said it was important not to be ruled by emotion on gun rights issues.
"In some cases, it's a split second thing with someone who has no history of mental illness," Tomes said. "Logic would tell us that there is no law...there is nothing that we can do that will guarantee that someone cannot access a firearm or any other weapon of choice to commit a crime.
"Emotion will tell us that if we write a law, then everybody's going to comply," he said.
Relford agreed that tragedies like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut raise emotional issues.
"I think the real tragedy is if we have a knee-jerk reaction as far as sweeping gun control in light of something like Connecticut," he said.
Bosma said some people have suggested Indiana should take another look at laws banning gun possession in schools.
"Some have pointed out the irony in the last 48 hours, the irony of teachers and administrators being unable to defend themselves in their school and have suggested we need to re-examine the gun-free zones in our state," he said. "I don't know that that's a solution but there is some irony there that only the non-law person was armed in that situation."