Paul Ryan: ‘Clearly we can do more’ to address mental health issues
By Deirdre Walsh, CNN Senior Congressional Producer
Washington (CNN)After a gunman murdered three at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic last week House SpeakerPaul Ryan said it’s time for Congress to take action on mental health issues.
“Clearly we can do more,” Ryan said Tuesday, adding, “one common denominator in these tragedies is mental illness. That’s why we need to look at fixing our nation’s mental health system.”
Ryan called the incident “appalling” and said “justice should be swift.”
There is no evidence from law enforcement authorities that the suspected shooter, Robert Dear, suffered from a mental illness, and no clear indication yet on a motive. But according to a law enforcement official briefed on the matter, Dear did mention “baby parts” to investigators and also expressed anti-government views and anti-abortion views.
The Speaker pointed to legislation crafted by Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Tim Murphy, a clinical psychologist, that overhauls the mental health system and aims to get treatment earlier to those who could pose a danger to others. Murphy’s bill is currently being considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but some House GOP members want additional changes made to it before the House votes on it.
The number two House Democrat, Rep Steny Hoyer of Maryland, agreed that focusing on mental health was an appropriate response to what happened in Colorado, but added there were concerns about “privacy rights” in the Murphy bill and said Republicans should work on a bipartisan proposal.
Hoyer also warned about partisan statements by political figures directed at specific groups after the incident. “We need to all be careful about our rhetoric, which can be inciteful.”
Despite a steady number of shootings in recent years involving those with mental health issues who had access to guns, Congress has yet to vote on any legislation to change the background check system or ramp up treatment options. In recent days the Democrats running for President have all called for action on gun legislation.
Campaigning in Iowa on Tuesday, GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush was asked by a hunter how he will balance gun rights with the need to prevent mass shootings, including the Planned Parenthood shooting.
Bush reiterated his defense of Second Amendment rights and said there needs to be more focus on enhancing mental health networks to identify people who are vulnerable to committing such violence. “These are deranged people,” he said.
The Florida Republican also added that he doesn’t think a person with a history of severe mental illness should be allowed to buy a gun, which is a divisive position among some of the most staunch gun rights supporters.
“This is something that we should not be ignoring,” Ryan said, but he didn’t commit to a vote on Murphy’s bill yet, saying it still needed to go through the legislative process. It’s unlikely that Congress will move legislation before the end of the year.
CNN’s Ashley Killough contributed to this report from Iowa