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Local politics


Helmke says gun control can pass

Urges Rotarians to press for action


Former Mayor Paul Helmke isn’t convinced the gun battle in Congress has ended.

Helmke, ex-president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said Monday that public pressure could force federal lawmakers to revisit legislation that would expand criminal background checks for gun buyers.

He urged about 75 members of the Downtown Rotary Club to push Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, to support background checks and other gun-control measures that failed to pass in the Senate this spring.

“We need to start putting pressure on people like Dan Coats to say, ‘Let’s get something done.’ We need to put pressure on people like Marlin Stutzman, who runs a Second Amendment caucus in the House and says he’s willing to listen to ideas,” Helmke told his audience in a Parkview Field meeting room.

“We need to get those people … to the table and say, ‘How are we going to get this done?’ Because doing nothing doesn’t work,” Helmke said.

He listed the sites of deadly mass shootings in the United States – Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown – and referred to a fatal shooting in Steuben County on Sunday and nine shooting deaths in Chicago over the July Fourth weekend.

“Forest fires we want to investigate,” said Helmke, who teaches at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “Plane crashes we want to investigate. … Tainted spinach, we want to do something. But gun violence we run away from.”

In April, the Democratic Senate voted 54-46 to require background checks for the purchase of firearms at gun shows and on the Internet, but the legislation needed 60 votes to pass.

The Republican House has not considered gun-control proposals this year.

Helmke praised Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., for favoring expanded background checks and wondered whether Coats, who opposed the legislation, was wary of upsetting the National Rifle Association.

“To me the big question mark is somebody like Sen. Coats,” Helmke said. “The NRA has given him a C rating. He voted for these things in the past. He’s a decent guy, he cares about the community. Why is he doing this?

“And the only theory I’ve heard from others is that he’s afraid he’s going to get primaried the next time he’s up (for re-election) and so he doesn’t want the NRA to jump in against him in the primary,” Helmke said.

To be primaried is parlance for interest groups that run or back a challenger against an incumbent in a political party’s primary election.

Tara DiJulio, communications director for Coats, said in an email that Coats “does not base his votes on outside groups’ scorecards or potential future election involvement.” She pointed out that the NRA did not endorse Coats in the 2010 primary and general elections.

Concerning the bill on background checks, “Coats supported alternative legislation that would have improved our current background check system, addressed mental illness in the criminal justice system and enhanced school safety,” DiJulio said.

The Senate voted 52-48 for that amendment, but 60 votes were required for passage.

Stutzman said in a statement about Helmke’s remarks, “While the tragedies in Connecticut and Colorado still weigh on our hearts, Hoosiers also know that Washington’s knee-jerk reactions don’t solve complicated problems. … When it comes to making our communities safer, Hoosiers deserve a commonsense approach that makes sure that an anti-gun agenda doesn’t criminalize private gun sales.”

Helmke, the city’s GOP mayor from 1988 through 1999, has remained a gun-control advocate since leaving his Brady Center post in 2011.

Without regulations, “anybody who wants to get a gun can get a gun easily,” Helmke said. “The world isn’t divided into good guys and bad guys. People are going to get drunk, people are going to get angry, people are going to make mistakes, and when they’ve got a gun, the rest of us pay the price.”