'It could be us next:' Johnson City mayor and congressman talk reform in wake of massacres

Brandon Paykamian • Aug 8, 2019 at 7:00 PM

In the wake of last weekend’s mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, voiced his support for background checks for gun ownership.

Roe said his “heart breaks for the families and friends of the victims of these recent shootings” and denounced the “hateful ideology of white supremacy, which the El Paso shooter used as his justification.”

The congressman pointed out that he previously cosponsored H.R. 1339, the Mass Violence Prevention Act, which aims to “establish a fusion center at the FBI between local, state and federal law enforcement coordination efforts to identify potential threats and respond promptly.”

“I believe with the right to keep and bear arms comes a responsibility to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, criminals, children and the mentally ill, which is why the current system of background checks makes sense,” Roe wrote in a Wednesday statement to the Press.

“We do need to address the glorification of violence and extreme isolation in our culture that has led to some of these horrific events. We can and should do more to better address mental health challenges in our communities. I also believe we should continue to improve compliance with the laws we already have on the books designed to prevent criminals and the mentally unstable from purchasing firearms,” the congressman also said.

Roe said he supports calls for the Senate to reconvene early to discuss background check legislation, though he has previously voted against laws like H.R. 1112, which aims to take guns from others who pose danger to themselves and others, and H.R. 8, which further addresses background checks.

Roe believes legislators need to carefully consider “red flag laws” similar to H.R. 1112 but didn’t support that bill because he believed it would infringe on veterans’ gun rights.

Vicki Powers from Moms Demand Action said she thanks Roe for speaking out more, despite his opposition to similar legislation in the past.

“He voted against these bills in February, and we applaud his support of those bills now. While this bill, H.R. 1339, could be helpful for law enforcement, research and results in states who have enacted universal background check laws and ‘red flag laws’ show that these are the most effective laws we can pass to reduce gun violence,” Powers said. “We hope Rep. Roe will continue to speak in favor of passing those laws in the Senate and work to pass more laws to stop gun violence, such as reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in the Senate, also.

“Again, we thank Rep. Roe for supporting background check expansion and red flag laws and for recognizing that more needs to be done by our lawmakers to keep Tennesseans and all Americans safe from gun violence.”

In the past, some of Roe’s fellow Republicans have been outspoken opponents of gun control legislation. In 2017, Jonesborough state Rep. Micah Van Huss pushed the Open Carry Firearms Freedom Act to allow Tennesseans to carry a gun openly without a permit.

“The core issue is the moral decline of the American family,” Van Huss said of mass shootings — without weighing in on background checks.

More than 200 mayors across the nation recently urged the Senate to reconvene to discuss gun safety legislation, the Associated Press reported.

Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock urged lawmakers to find a bipartisan solution to what she sees as a public health issue. She said mass shootings have become “more the norm than the exception.”

“We have to get to some solutions. I think of Johnson City. It could be us next,” she said. “It could be the mayor of Johnson City standing behind those microphones. What do you say?”

Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said he supports red flag laws, as well, but believes senators could use their time during the August recess to “formulate a plan.”

“When the government tends to rush things through, they tend to make bad decisions,” he said.