Collins urges creation of panel to look at mass-violence causes

Posted Jan. 01, 2013, at 7:30 p.m.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins speaks during the opening ceremony of the new hangar at the 101st Air Refueling Wing base in Bangor in October.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins speaks during the opening ceremony of the new hangar at the 101st Air Refueling Wing base in Bangor in October. Buy Photo

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins wants a National Commission on Violence established to probe the causes of mass-casualty horrors such as the school shootings in Newtown and Columbine, she said Tuesday.

Collins, R-Maine, is among a group of influential senators who sought the creation of the commission in a letter to Vice President Joe Biden on Dec. 27. Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., co-signed the letter.

“Our nation,” the letter states, “needs a fuller understanding of why so many of our young people are turning into killers and how to end this recurring nightmare.”

The idea resurrects a Lieberman proposal that followed the Columbine shootings in 1999.

“It is my hope that a national commission on mass violence can take a comprehensive look at violence in our country,” Collins said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Collins said she sees the commission examining several issues, including:

• How society can better identify and care for troubled individuals who pose a threat to themselves and others;

• How to close gaps in the database for background checks that are supposed to prevent the dangerously mentally ill from purchasing firearms;

• The balance between the availability of high-capacity ammunition and the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and;

• Media’s possible role in glorifying violence in our media and respect for First Amendment rights.

“There certainly is no one answer, but we simply should not wait any longer to examine and act on the factors contributing to these horrific mass murders,” Collins said.

The letter itself acknowledges the daunting task the commission would undertake, but describes some of the benefits such an effort could accrue.

“If we are to act in a comprehensive manner that strengthens the mental health care system, improves law enforcement, results in healthier and happier families, keeps guns out of the hands of those who would do ill with them, and addresses an entertainment culture that too often glorifies violence, it will be essential to build a consensus grounded in facts,” the letter states. “The recommendations of a National Commission on Violence could provide the basis for such a consensus.”

The senators included Lieberman’s 1999 bill with the letter to Biden, urging that he recommend the formation of the commission as head of a task force charged with examining examine the causes behind gun violence.

President Obama ordered the task force’s formation five days after a gunman committed suicide after killing 20 children and six adults at a grade school in Newtown, Conn., and his own mother, on Dec. 14.

Biden hasn’t yet publicly responded to the suggestion, said Collins’ spokesman, Kevin Kelley. His task force is due to issue a list of recommendations at the end of January.

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