Monday, following this weekend’s two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, Yellowstone Public Radio's Nicky Ouellet spoke with Montana’s Republican Senator Steve Daines, who was in Billings for the opening of a new patient recovery hospital. She asked the Senator about what Congress has done to curb mass shootings and whether members should cut their August recess short and return to DC to talk about gun violence.
Their conversation is unedited.
Nicky Ouellet: Sen. Daines, Thanks so much for taking time to talk to me today.
Daines: Yeah, glad to.
Ouellet: What would you say to people who are calling for Congress members to cut recess short so that they can come back to Washington D.C. and take up gun control legislation?
Daines: Yeah, well, look at what's happened here. It's a horrible situation in El Paso where you had somebody who was a white supremacist, anti-Hispanic bigot who took this action, and we really saw the manifestation of evil in front of us. We saw the same thing in Dayton, but had a whole different story there where you had a young man who killed his own sister, before murdering eight other innocent people. And at the same time we saw these horrific acts of evil, we saw good come out as well, when we saw that sergeant who rescued children there at the Wal-Mart in El Paso. You saw the Dayton Police officers who engaged the gunman within 20 seconds of the action he took, and then took him out within about 10 seconds.
But Congress needs to take a look at what the facts are behind each of these situations. I think it's very important that we go through to understand the background. What drove these two men to initiate these very evil acts. What I don't like seeing right now is to the politicalization of what's going on. There are 30 families right now that are burying their loved ones. There are many other families right now who are in hospitals watching their loved ones fight for their very lives. These attacks on political leaders, doesn't matter which side of the aisle you're on, for me are completely uncalled for. And this is a time to grieve as a nation and then to take a look at what happened here. For Congress to come together then, and look at what we need to do here in terms of a plan to to ensure that these faces of evil don't turn into these kind of horrendous acts again.
Ouellet: President Trump this morning on Twitter said that Congress should pass stronger background check legislation. Do you agree?
Daines: Well, I think what the president said today in his remarks, and I read the statement, is that he's looking at looking at creating some ways to provide additional grant dollars to states for what they call these red flags. A person with a felony cannot buy a firearm, if convicted. It is a criminal act. It's a felony to make criminal threats online. We have a problem, I think today, also in social media. If you take a look at these two evil men who committed those acts, one in El Paso, one in Dayton, you know they posted, one case, a manifesto online. Another case, this young man in Dayton was a known threat. You look at the story in his life. And again, we were seeing patterns where as communities, law enforcement, we need to be acting sooner with these individuals before comes a point before they correct - they commit these very evil acts.
Ouellet: So do you support any action from Congress to address these?
Daines: We're literally in discussions right now. I was texting back and forth with Senator Cornyn today. Of course Senator Cornyn was in El Paso yesterday, a senator from Texas. So there's a lot of discussion to go on as we speak. The President laid out some proposals. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who I know very well, has laid out some proposals. So Congress is already having dialogue without having been back in D.C. In some ways it may be better for members to be back in their home states in their districts having these discussions before we come back and have further discussion of what the plan is going forward.
Daines staff member: We've got to go, sorry.
Ouellet: Thanks so much for your time.
Daines: Do you have one more question?
Ouellet: Yeah, I do actually. It's been a year-and-a-half since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, it's been almost two years since the Las Vegas concert shooting, three years since the Pulse nightclub shooting. When are we going to see actual action from Congress on this?
Daines: Well, there's been action taken. We passed a bill here that provides significant resources to our schools to make sure we are protecting our schools from violence. We had a 'fix NICS' bill that passed, that was passed by Congress. So to say there's been no action just isn't true.
Ouellet: Thank you very much for you time.
Daines: There has been action on that so that's not a fair question. Look at what what Congress has on a bipartisan fashion.
The Fix NICS Act Senator Daines referred to aims to increase states’ input to federal databases that track gun sales by dealers. Daines was an original co-sponsor of the STOP School Violence Act, which created grants for schools for training, threat assessment and creating anonymous tip lines. Both were both part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which Daines voted against.