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Van Hollen says Conn. attack unpreventable

Published On: Dec 18 2012 02:01:28 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 18 2012 10:15:12 PM CST
J.B. Van Hollen
MADISON, Wis. -

Wisconsin's top cop won't say whether he would support a ban on any weapons following multiple mass shootings, including those in Wisconsin.

Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said that specifically the mass shooting in Connecticut may have been unpreventable. He said it appears Adam Lanza didn't own the guns he used and that Lanza broke into Sandy Hook Elementary.

"I think people immediately try to turn these tragedies into a foothold for a policy debate," Van Hollen said. "It's unfortunate because, first and foremost, I think we need to focus on the victims."

Van Hollen, who got the state's first concealed carry permit last year, has led the state Justice Department through several mass shootings in Wisconsin since he took office. He said there aren't any simple ways to prevent them.

Van Hollen said he has been deeply affected, as have others across the state, following mass shootings in Oak Creek and Brookfield and then last week's tragedy in Newtown, Conn. But he said it hasn't changed his mind about the fundamental right to keep and bear arms.

"People talk about whether we should have the gun control debate," Van Hollen said. "Well, the gun control debate has been going on for a long time in this country, and the reality is there is gun control."

Van Hollen won't say specifically whether he'd support a ban on any weapons or ammunition, but said he thinks the regular use of weapons, like the semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle used in the Connecticut shootings, should be considered.

"From what I've read by all accounts, an AR-15 .223-caliber is a very popular weapon, if not the most popular weapon, and I think there's a good reason for that," Van Hollen said. "It's more comfortable for people to use, easier for smaller people to hunt with. There are good reasons why people utilize that, and I think that needs to be taken account in the policy debate."

When asked if he would stay away from banning that weapon, Van Hollen said he wasn't taking a position.

"I'm not here promoting that any specific weapon should be banned, and I'm not here promoting any specific policy other than the fact that it will be up to our lawmakers and legislators to balance the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and protect the public and to determine if further bans on citizens having firearms is actually going to protect the public," Van Hollen said.

He said lawmakers should focus more on keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and putting more liaison officers into schools.

"Obviously, if there is someone armed and trained they can end a tragedy sooner than if there is no one there to do such a thing," Van Hollen said.

In the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, three Wisconsin Democrats said they'll propose a trio of gun control bills.

State Rep. Fred Kessler of Milwaukee said Tuesday he'd like to see a ban on assault rifles and military-grade ammunition. He also said people who apply for concealed-carry permits should have to pass a mental health test.

Kessler was joined by Rep.-elects Mandela Barnes and Evan Goyke. The three said they're still working on the bill language, and they're open to input.

Kessler acknowledged there might be difficulty advancing the bills through both Republican-controlled chambers, but he said his GOP colleagues will be hard-pressed to vote against ensuring that concealed-carry applicants are mentally sound.

Pro-gun lobbyist James Fendry said mandating psychological exams will divert mental health professionals from patients who need real help.

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