House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, is urging his Republican colleagues to avoid the temptation to point fingers and make the tragedy of Newtown, Conn., an issue of gun control at the state level.
Dee said he urged his colleagues in a recent caucus to avoid coming to easy conclusions, because of the tragedy where a gunman killed 20 young children and six adults in an elementary school.
"I don't want it to be a discussion of gun control," Dee said.
Conversely, he said the incident can easily be the basis for a discussion on mental health, the disintegration of the family or other issues.
"It's not our place to point fingers," Dee said.
Dee said the issue of the right to carry arms will always be out there as a key political topic, but he said he'd rather it not be a hot topic in the upcoming legislative session.
Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, said most of the caucus discussion related to the tragedy centered on mental health issues and whether the state is providing enough services. He said the approach to mental health issues has changed over the years and now the issue of whether the state is providing enough services is a question. Peterson said no one talked about gun control in relation to the shooting incident.
If the issue does come up, there are people on both sides of the gun control issue ready to tackle the topic.
Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, is one of the most visible and passionate voices on the Hill in support of the 2nd Amendment. Oda described the Connecticut gunman as "loony" and said statistics show violence rates are lower in areas where law-abiding citizens are allowed to have legal firearms.
Oda suggests many people are using the emotion of the tragedy to stir discussion on gun control, without addressing the root of why the incident occurred. He said many of the mass murders, including an incident at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City a few years ago, have a link to psychotropic drugs.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake, considers Oda a friend, but strongly disagrees on how far firearms rights should go. As a former teacher, Moss said she has heard from a number of educators who oppose the idea of teachers having a firearm in the classroom. She also wonders why anyone, besides a police officer, needs to openly carry a weapon.
Moss said incidents like the Connecticut shooting should be the platform for discussion.
"I don't think it's wrong to have a discussion when events like this occur," she said.
In the meantime, Gov. Gary Herbert said his office will evaluate the safety of Utah schoolchildren and appropriately assess school safety and security protocols.
"This was a senseless tragedy -- for the children, for their families, for the community and for our nation. I believe all productive policy discussions should be driven by facts, and we are still learning what the facts are as the investigation moves forward. However, as a start, what is clear is this nation needs to reassess how we address mental health, and particularly access to weapons by the mentally ill," Herbert said.