Jeb Bush, speaking to a room full of high school students, said Tuesday that society needs to get better at identifying and helping people with mental health issues. He also argued that new gun laws aren’t the right solution to address gun violence.
Asked if he believed in gun control, the Republican presidential candidate cast himself as a staunch defender of the Second Amendment and said he thinks Washington should stay out of the business of creating national laws.
“The federal government shouldn’t be involved in gun laws because the country’s very different,” he said at La Progresiva Presbyterian School in Miami. “You go to a rural area, where guns are part of the culture, (and) to impose laws from Washington that are going to work in New York City, or work in a rural area, makes no sense.”
His comments come less than a week after two journalists were shot and killed by a former colleague near Roanoke, Virginia, and Democrats were quick to pounce on his answer. The Democratic National Committee labeled his statement that the “federal government shouldn’t be involved in gun laws” as “extreme” on Twitter.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign also jumped on the remark. Their Twitter account, The Briefing, tweeted a video going after Bush, posing what would happen if current federal laws, like background checks, were repealed.
Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said after the event he was referring to the creation of new laws.
“Governor Bush is a supporter of the Second Amendment. He doesn’t believe new federal gun laws are the answer,” she said in an email. The campaign did not respond when asked if he supports the gun laws that are already on the books.
The former Florida governor often touts his A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, and he signed Florida’s “stand your ground” measure into law in 2005. He has also talked on the campaign trail about how he was able to reduce gun violence in his state without restricting Second Amendment rights.
The focus instead, he said, should be on making sure guns don’t land in the hands of people struggling with mental health problems, citing the recent Virginia shooting.
“He bought a gun apparently legally. There was no criminal background record and so I don’t know how you would solve that problem unless we begin to identify people that have mental health issues,” he said. “So I think having a society that is much more in tune with the people that are kind of on the margins of society would be a better solution than imposing more gun restrictions.”
Bush said it’s natural for people to want to take legislative action every time there’s a tragedy like the shooting last week, but argued that it’s usually law-abiding gun owners who see their rights affected.
“And it doesn’t necessarily solve the problems of these isolated sad, tragic cases,” he said.
Offering some advice to his young audience, Bush said students should pay attention to their friends and notice if any are “kind of more and more living in their own world and they’re on the Internet all the time and they kind of no longer have contact with their friends.”
“(If) they’re socially kind of alone, then we have a duty to make sure our friends know we care about them, that we’re involved,” he said. “Their families need to do the same thing.”