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Wolf Stirs Gun Control Debate with Study on Mass Shootings

Access to guns, mental health covered in Virginia rep's report by the National Science Foundation — topics he says need to stay part of the conversation.

Days after President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address to call on Congress and the country to act on gun control, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) has released a report that examines driving forces behind mass shootings, including violent media and mental health issues — topics absent from the president's address, Wolf said.

The 41-page report, “Youth Violence: What We Need to Know,” includes several studies compiled by an advisory committee to the National Science Foundation (NSF). It will come before a U.S. House subcommittee later this spring.

Among the study's findings: exposure to violent media is a significant risk factor in shootings, but also "one of the easiest risk factors to change,” the report says. Its suggestions include: a universal rating system, or, more warning labels.

Another study in the report indicated shooters are generally "at the early onset of severe mental illness," or are in its full thrust, but often it goes undetected or untreated.

Wolf says he recently asked Attorney General Eric Holder improve the background check system nationwide and also create a national center for campus public safety. The last request came from the Virginia-based VTV Family Outreach Foundation, "a group made up of families and victims of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech." 

Yet another part of the report suggested the three main factors — access to guns, mental instability and violent media — could be linked.

For the full report, click here.

In a statement that accompanied the report, Wolf took issue with Obama’s State of the Union address for failing to touch on some of these issues.

In his speech, Obama called for stricter gun control laws, saying such legislation needed to be voted on and approved after the tragedies Americans have had to endure, including the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Obama called for Congress to vote on “common sense reform,” mentioning mandated background checks and laws that would prevent buying guns for resale to criminals.

But Wolf wanted to see the President go further.

“While I recognize the potential constitutional issues involved in tackling media violence, mental health parity and gun control, I am disappointed that mental health issues and media violence were left out of the president’s address,” Wolf said in his statement.

Reactions from local Virginians to Obama's remarks, and gun control, have been split. Some thought the address was a successful call to action but others heard something closer to a campaign speech, with ideas for programs but no way to pay for them.

In Virginia, gun control legislation has had an uphill battle during the 2013 session of the state's General Assembly.

Of the 26 bills relating to regulating firearms introduced this session, only eight remain alive — three of them, from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s School Safety Task Force, are expected to pass the General Assembly before the end of the session.

  • SB 1376 would provide civil immunity to anybody who reports what he or she believe to be a “credible danger of serious bodily injury or death” on school grounds. The bill passed the Senate on Wednesday and will be heard Friday by the House.
  • SB 1377 would increase the penalty for carrying a firearm or explosive device onto school property with intent to commit a violent felony. The full Senate was scheduled to hear the bill Thursday.
  • SB 1378 would increase the penalties for any person who sells or purchases a gun for anyone they know is legally prohibited from owning a gun. Depending on the offense, the bill would impose mandatory prison terms of one, five and 10 years.

"If you come in here and you knowingly buy a gun for somebody who is either mentally incompetent or a criminal, the penalties are going to be swift and severe in Virginia," McDonnell said of SB 1378 during a press conference this week.

SB 1378 was also scheduled to be heard by the full Senate Thursday.

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