NRA past-pres.: Mentally ill, criminals are ‘excuses’ in gun control debate

nophillips@thestate.comSeptember 21, 2013 

David Keene, National Rifle Association president 2011-2013

— A past-president of the National Rifle Association argued Friday that mentally ill people and criminals cannot be used as excuses for interfering with citizens’ rights to own guns.

David Keene, who earlier this year finished his two-year term as NRA head, described those responsible for gun violence as one of two types: the mentally ill, such as Aaron Alexis, who committed the Monday shootings at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard, or criminals, who are repeatedly arrested and still have guns.

“There are things that can be done. There are things that should be done,” Keene said. “But none of the things that should be done can be used – or should be used – as an excuse to interfere with the fundamental right under the American Constitution.”

Keene spoke in Columbia on Friday morning during the S.C. chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates’ annual James Otis Lecture in recognition of Constitution Day. Each year, the board selects a topic relevant to the U.S. Constitution and invites speakers to lecture on it in front of high school students from across the state. About 70 students attended Friday’s lecture.

On Friday evening, Keene appeared with S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson at a gun rights rally at the Palmetto State Armory’s Columbia gun store.

The 2nd Amendment lecture came just four days after authorities said Alexis used his military contractor credentials to enter the Navy Yard and fired a shotgun and handgun to kill 12 people. He was killed by police.

But the Navy Yard shooting is only the latest in a string of mass shootings in the United States, including in December, when a man shot to death 26 people, including 20 children, at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Robert W. Foster, president of the board’s S.C. chapter, said the 2nd Amendment was a “cutting edge” issue for the program.

“This year, it was hard for us to avoid the issue we read about every other week – the right to bear arms,” Foster said.

A counterpoint on gun control was offered by Zachary Horan, a USC law school student and West Point graduate, who brought a moderate view to the issue. Horan argued that the United States could take responsible steps to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill without intruding on people’s rights.

He made the case for universal background checks and the banning of high-capacity magazines that allow shooters to take dozens of shots before reloading their weapons. He also said gun manufacturers have a duty to make sure their products are not “dangerous and unusual weapons” that compromise public safety.

“We have an unquestionable right to bear arms within the limits of the law,” Horan said. “Universal background checks are not unreasonable.”

After the lecture, students were asked to vote on Horan’s gun control measures.

The group voted 56 to 19 in favor of requiring universal background checks but rejected the idea of a ban on high-capacity magazines by a 28 to 46 vote.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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