WHEELING - Discussions about mental health treatment need to be part of any national dialogue pertaining to gun law reform and school safety, local members of Congress say.
They believe more conversation is needed in the House and Senate before any new legislation is initiated to begin a new direction in how the nation addresses mass violence.
Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., said Congress could first act to curb gun violence by making gun-trafficking a felony offense. He also hopes lawmakers move to require more background checks on those seeking to purchase weapons.
Chain-link fencing surrounds the playground at Woodsdale Elementary School. Signs on the doors at Woodsdale welcome visitors, but tell them they also must use the main entrance and first report in to the principal’s office. Another sign discourages trespassers.
"Let's really ferret out the people who are felons - who have mental instability," McKinley said. "There ought to be some kind of test - I'm sure it can be done."
He also doesn't believe a ban on assault weapons "will go anywhere" in Congress as the overwhelming number of gun-related deaths occur with handguns.
Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, said Congress must look out for the security of children in light of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn.
"I think about the safety of my 9-year-old son and four granddaughters every day as they go off to school," Johnson commented. "There's no question that we need to ensure that our children are safe. It's time to have a national discussion about what needs to be done to protect our children, and about how to improve the identification, diagnosis, and treatment for people who face serious mental challenges.
"In the days ahead, we all, as Americans, will have a national conversation about how to reduce the violence that seems to permeate our culture, as well as how to ensure those with significant mental challenges are being appropriately identified, diagnosed, and treated so something like this never happens again."
Meghan Dubyak, spokeswoman for Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Brown believes discussions about gun violence and school safety should begin at the community level.
"Sen. Brown is opposed to a 'one-size-fits-all' federal mandate for communities to fund armed officers in schools, and believes instead that communities should be able to develop their own school safety," Dubyak commented.
"Sen. Brown believes that we should start a sensible dialogue about gun safety in our communities. He supports the establishment of a commission to examine how to prevent gun violence and also supports renewing the assault weapons ban, a common-sense effort to prevent the proliferation of deadly weapons."
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she has serious concerns about how people capable of such mass murder are able to get their hands on an assault weapon.
"As this debate continues, we need to consider everything that may have contributed to the shooting in Newtown, from gun laws to the level of violence in the media to how we address mental illness in this country," she said.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said "you have to look at everything" when it comes to curbing gun-related violence across the nation.
"I'm a proud gun owner and NRA member, and I believe there are a lot of people who believe like I do that we have to make our schools safer for our children," he said. "I'm willing to sit down and talk to people with a difference of opinion. If you want to blame it all on guns, it is wrong. It's not just a gun problem.
"We have to talk about mental illness, the lack of treatment for mental illness. We have to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people. We have to look at the culture of violence we have - the media, how they glorify it."
Fred Theiss of Wheeling, instructor and owner of Safe and Sound Firearm Instruction, suggests lawmakers refrain from crafting any additional laws pertaining to gun ownership and use.
"We need no new laws pertaining to gun rights," he said. "There are more on the books than pertaining to guns than to any other entity.
"We need to impose the laws we have, but there are many that only end up hurting law-abiding citizens."
He noted the vast majority of mass shootings have occurred where more strict laws already are in place.
"These people have mental issues, but they are smart enough to go where the gun-free zones are, and they won't be shot back," Theiss commented.
"I'm not saying guns are the answer to everything, but we have to fight back. You don't take a knife to a gun fight."