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Washington • A day after a shooter gunned down college students in Oregon and President Barack Obama called on Congress and states to enact stricter firearms controls, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said new laws aren't going to solve the concern as much as trying to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill.
"It's not necessary [to enact] new rules and regulations; it's changing the culture," Herbert, chairman of the National Governors Association, told a National Press Club audience.
Herbert said Utah's laws, for example, strive to keep guns in the right hands, but he added that other states can do more to bar mentally ill persons from buying firearms.
"We [other states] can do better, I think, when it comes to mental health and screening, background checks," the Republican governor said, "to make sure that those who, in fact, apply for concealed-weapon permits, for example, or acquire guns of any kind are fit mentally to be able to handle a gun."
Obama appeared frustrated Thursday as he took the podium in the James Brady White House Briefing Room named for the former press secretary who was shot and severely wounded in an assassination attempt on then-President Ronald Reagan after news broke about the shooting at an Oregon community college. The Democratic president said gun laws need to change but he couldn't do it himself.
"I've got to have a Congress," Obama said, "and I've got to have state legislatures and governors who are willing to work with me on this."
Asked Friday about that comment and what governors can do, Herbert pivoted, saying that bullying at a young age can prompt more serious problems later in life and that the focus on halting such mass shootings is through education.
"Violence and the outcome of violence starts at a younger age when we see bullying that is not contained and not controlled," Herbert said. "So teaching good values and good principles are a very significant part of what the president is talking about."
Herbert added, "I think that would actually make a bigger difference, not just on the short term but on the long term, than creating some new law prohibiting the carrying of a weapon."
The Utah governor, who made a whirlwind tour of Washington this week to promote his agenda as head of the NGA, discussed a variety of topics at the National Press Club, from Utah's landmark nondiscrimination law, to the Affordable Care Act to the presidential race.
Herbert said he would call the GOP-controlled Utah Legislature into session later this month to vote on a new proposal to expand Medicaid coverage in Utah a negotiated alternative to Herbert's own Healthy Utah plan that failed to gain support. But the governor didn't know if he had enough votes to pass it.
"I don't know what's going to happen," he said, noting that taxpayers in states without any Medicaid expansion, or alternative, are paying taxes that are going elsewhere.
In his Friday speech, Herbert continued the theme of his trip: that the federal government is too big and too heavy handed when it comes to the states. He said the combined budgets of the 50 states totals $1.7 trillion but the federal government's budget is now nearly $4 trillion.
"We're asking Washington," Herbert said, "to do too many things for too many people."