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VOL. 42 | NO. 7 | Friday, February 16, 2018

Bredesen urges tighter mental illness checks for guns

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NASHVILLE (AP) — While defending his gun-rights pedigree, Tennessee Democrat Phil Bredesen on Monday called for "common-sense" gun laws, saying the deadly Florida school shooting shows the need for tougher background checks to keep guns away from the mentally ill.

The U.S. Senate candidate said he was alarmed by the lack of response from the Republican-led Congress since the high school rampage that killed 17 students and faculty last week. Bredesen declared that offering thoughts and prayers "isn't good enough."

"We need to take real action to protect students, teachers and schools," the former Tennessee governor said in a statement provided to The Associated Press.

Bredesen is running for the seat held by Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who has announced his plans to retire. U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is running in the August Republican primary. Reports have circulated that some Republicans are encouraging Corker not to retire.

Wading into a politically treacherous issue in a state where many cherish gun rights, Bredesen called it a complicated issue and said he doesn't have all the answers.

"But at a minimum, we've got to get serious about making the gun background check process more rigorous as it relates to mental illness," he said. "That's the common denominator in many of these attacks, and there ought to be ways to deal with it."

Bredesen's comments came on the same day that the suspect in the Florida school shooting made his first court appearance. Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old charged with killing 17 people last Wednesday at his former high school in Parkland, Florida, has been described by students as a loner with troubling behavior who had been expelled.

Since the shooting, his mental health has been the focus of President Donald Trump's comments. Mental health professionals welcome more resources and attention, but they say the administration is ignoring the real problem — easy access to guns, particularly the kind of high-powered highly lethal assault weapons used in many of the most recent mass shootings.

Bredesen on Monday referred to himself as a longtime gun owner, sportsman and Second Amendment supporter.

"But I'm also an advocate for common-sense gun ownership and gun laws," he said. "Let's do what it takes to protect our kids, now and in the future."

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