ST. LOUIS — In the wake of a shooting in a Texas school, several lawmakers and candidates running for a seat in the U.S. Senate are offering their reactions and potential solutions.
“The loss of life in Uvalde, Texas is heartbreaking," Senator Josh Hawley said in a written statement to 5 On Your Side. "As parents, Erin and I stand in prayer with those who have suffered the unimaginable, the loss of a child."
Hawley used the occasion to call for tougher criminal sentences and greater funding for police.
"As a public official, I believe the time has come to increase penalties for violent crimes and crimes committed with firearms," he said. "We must also fully fund our police and local law enforcement and give them the resources they need to keep our kids safe.”
Hawley has endorsed Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, a Republican representing Missouri 4th Congressional District, in her bid for the U.S. Senate. In an interview, Hartzler said lawmakers should review potential solutions to prevent mass shootings in schools.
Hartzler, who is one of several Republicans running for a chance to replace Roy Blunt in the U.S. Senate, said she backs a plan to arm guards in schools, and it's "too early" to pass any gun control measures. She said she opposes expanding background checks or raising the legal age to buy a firearm.
"I was just sick," Hartzler said in a Wednesday morning interview with 5 On Your Side. "I was sick for the parents, and the first responders, the entire town, and our nation. As a former teacher myself, and a mother, I just can't imagine what these families are going through, what the school is going through. And it's just another example of a loss of lives and potential that was unnecessary. We need to look at this and see if there's anything that can be done to prevent these things from happening again."
We asked Hartzler if she'd feel comfortable expanding any firearm background checks if she were elected to the Senate.
"No," she said. "Most of the murders that take place actually don't even involve guns in this country."
Data shows the vast majority of murders in America do involve firearms. According to a recent Pew Research review of FBI and CDC murder data, 19,384 out of 24,576 murders in America involved a gun in 2020. There were 5,192 murders that were committed without guns in the same year.
"You know, I think guns are often the focus of a lot of attention, and they want to pass laws to restrict them," Hartzler said. "We need to be going after the core root causes of these problems and not restricting guns, because law-abiding citizens are the ones that ultimately get hurt when that happens."
The Uvalde shooter was 18 years old and had just purchased his guns days before launching his attack.
Lucas Kunce, a Marine veteran running in the Democratic primary for the open Senate seat, said he would "throw out the filibuster" to expand firearm background checks to "keep weapons of war out of the hands of criminals or terrorists."
"I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan. I've carried weapons of war," he said. "I can't believe that I have to tell my 6-year-old and my 8-year-old boys that their classroom could be a warzone. It's absolutely, it's tragic."
We also asked Hartzler if the law requires you to be 21 to buy a beer, should you also have to be 21 to buy a gun?
"I don't think so," Hartzler said. "We have 18-year-olds that serve our nation now and protect us and shoot guns. I think more we need to just continue with... make sure that the background checks are in place. From what we know at this point, it seems like the shooter did pass that check. And so were there other things that could be put in place, other red flags that maybe could have been looked at? We don't know yet at this point. So I think it's too early to talk about any more laws as far as guns go, but I think we do need to look at school protection. And that's something we can all agree on and move forward with."
"When I was in the Marine Corps, when 18-year-old kids came in and were being introduced to these weapons, they couldn't just get a weapon and Day One run around with it," Kunce said. "We made sure that they got the proper training. We made sure that they could operate the weapon. We made sure that they got all the safety stuff, and they had a period of observation."
"We know what mitigation measures we can put in place to prevent deaths in everything," Kunce said. "We wear seatbelts when we drive cars. We talked about ages for tobacco, alcohol, perhaps weapons, everything like that.
"We have seen that doing nothing is not the answer," he added. "Doing nothing is how we have this happen over and over and over again."
Hartzler pointed to a nearly unanimous bill that passed out of the House four years ago as a solution to stop mass school shootings.
"Congress did take action in 2018 with the Stop School Violence Act, which provides grant money to schools to be able to harden their facilities to prevent these things from happening," she said.
The U.S. Department of Justice used that law late last year to send $125 million in funding to secure dozens of school districts, including several in Texas. Rep. Hartzler suggested the campus may have been vulnerable.
"I'm not sure about the details of this school yet," she said. "It seemed like they had a single point of entry. But did they have the double doors? Did they have the Mylar put onto the windows? Was there other safety measures there that the school put in place to prevent this shooter from being able to get into the facility? And I think that's what we need to expand on, is to figure out ways to stop the shooters from coming in.
"I've introduced the Police Officers Protecting Children Act, which passed the House a couple of years ago, but still hasn't passed the Senate. And what that does is allow off-duty and retired police officers to carry a gun on school premises to protect the children if the local school board passes a policy to allow them to do that, or wants them to do that. And I think that's very important, especially for our rural schools, to be able to utilize these professionals in the local community who can provide that extra layer of protections."
Missouri's Attorney General Eric Schmitt, one of Hartzler's primary opponents in the Senate race, is defending a state law in court that would make it a crime for local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal gun laws anywhere in Missouri. Hartzler declined to criticize Schmitt's involvement in advocating for a measure that would effectively make void any federal background checks or tracking of firearms sales in the state.
"Well, it is in Missouri law. And that is what the Missouri legislature passed," she said. "And so that's his role as the Missouri attorney general. But I think it's up to the citizens of this state to weigh in with their state legislators and what they feel like is the best policy for our state."
Schmitt did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did former governor Eric Greitens or State Senator Dave Schatz, two other Republican candidates running for the Senate.
Hartzler said passing new laws won't do anything to deter violent crime.
"We all have that ability to protect ourselves and I think that just outlawing certain guns doesn't change the hearts of individuals, and they're going to get guns -- the outlaws are -- and hurt people," she said. "So we need to be able to defend ourselves and have that right. But at the same time, we need to look at what is causing these attacks. Are there mental health problems that we can address? Are there other red flags? Are there violent video games, perhaps, that he was playing? We just don't know yet at this point."
Trudy Busch-Valentine, a Democrat running against Kunce in the Senate primary race, has not yet responded to requests for comment.