Sullivan, Murkowski see bigger issues than guns after shooting

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 - 11:33
  • U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks to reporters after addressing a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 22 in Juneau. The Alaska Republican touched on a number of topics in addressing lawmakers and reporters, including steps that she said could be taken to help address violence in this country. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
  • U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan speaks to reporters after delivering an address to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 26. During the news conference, Sullivan said the discussion over mass shootings needs to be broader than guns and cited concerns about violence in video games and movies. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said violence in video games and movies should be discussed as part of a larger debate on gun violence and suggested Feb. 26 that states should decide whether schoolteachers should be armed.

Meanwhile, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, who was in Washington, D.C., for a gathering of the nation’s governors, told The Associated Press something must be done in response to the violence.

But he said he wants to speak with advisers from within his administration and possibly also hear from outside voices before taking any action. He said he wants to discuss ideas other states have done to see if they would make sense in Alaska.

“I think we have to do something that will make a difference,” said Walker, a former Republican no longer affiliated with a party.

Sullivan, a Republican, was in Alaska’s capital Monday, for an annual address to the state Legislature in which he expressed optimism for Alaska’s future and touched on policy victories over the last year.

With crime a concern for many Alaskans, Sullivan said work remains in trying to ensure that communities are safe. He said the shooting at a Florida high school earlier this month that left 17 people dead had forced a national discussion on school safety.

He said he will evaluate proposals brought forward on the federal level aimed at preventing similar incidents in the future.

“However, as Alaskans, we understand how important our Second Amendment rights are,” he said. “We use firearms not only for self-defense but as a tool to feed our families. And in many ways we are unique from almost every other state in the nation on this issue.”

Both he and Walker expressed concern with proposals to raise the minimum age to buy a gun, citing the state’s hunting culture.

Teenagers hunt, Walker noted. “There’s no one-size-fits-all as far as I’m concerned,” Walker said. “It is a states’ rights issue, I believe, and we need to address it as Alaskans, what makes the most sense.”

Sullivan told reporters he has doubts about the idea of arming teachers, which President Donald Trump has floated. He suggested that’s an issue that should be decided at the state, rather than the federal, level.

He also said the discussion about gun violence must go beyond guns, citing what he says has been a “hardening of our culture” over the last 40 years with violent movies and video games.

Sullivan said some might scoff at that or ridicule him as a “modern-day Tipper Gore.” Gore, the ex-wife of former Vice President Al Gore, was part of an effort in the 1980s that pushed for parental warning labels on music with violent or sexually explicit lyrics.

But if that isn’t part of the discussion, “I think we’re really missing something,” he said.

He also said there is an opportunity to learn from what happened in the Florida shooting, including “red flags” that had been raised about the alleged shooter that may have been missed.

Murkowski weighs in

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Feb. 22 that steps can be taken to address a “growing trend” of mass shootings and increased violence, including doing more to help individuals with mental illnesses and fixing problems in background check systems.

But she questioned whether banning certain types of guns is part of the answer, suggesting there are other options for people intent on causing harm, such as using chemicals or vehicles.

As a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, “I want to make sure that when we’re talking about guns and weapons that we are not putting ourselves in a situation where we think we have solved the problems because we have banned one particular weapon,” the Alaska Republican said told reporters after addressing a joint session of the state Legislature. “This is a multi, multi-headed issue that we are dealing with, and we all know that.”

Her comments followed a shooting at a Florida high school last week in which 17 people were killed. She told state lawmakers there is no simple fix to violence but how the country responds to cries for help from people who have mental illnesses “before they do harm” must be part of any solution.

“We cannot have continued congressional impasse, where we have a tragedy happen, we all express our condolences, we then lock into our political stances and nothing is done until the next tragedy hits and then we express our outrage all over again,” she said, adding later: “If the senseless death of children cannot bring us together to find solutions, I don’t know what can.”

Alaska’s U.S. senators traditionally address the state Legislature each year, providing updates on their work in Washington, D.C.

Murkowski said the past year has been a good one for the state, including military investments and the passage of legislation to allow for oil and gas development on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an issue that top state leaders from both parties have long supported.

But she said she expects lawsuits that will challenge development activity in the refuge and urged Alaskans to speak “with one voice” at the national level.

During a wide-ranging news conference, Murkowski said she is exploring ways to address uncertainty created by a shift in federal policy for marijuana businesses licensed by the state.

She also said she is concerned with Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and supports allowing the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller to continue unimpeded.

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