(Video above: Congressman Bradley Byrne discusses his family’s personal gun violence tragedy and how it shaped his views on the Second Amendment and mental health.)
WASHINGTON — As President Barack Obama cried while remembering the shooting victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School, and announced his plan to issue executive actions on gun control, Alabama Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) could not help but be reminded of his own family’s tragic experience with gun violence.
“This is not an abstract issue for me,” he said. “My grandfather was shot and killed by a mentally ill person. And it devastated my family. It devastated my mother and grandmother and my two uncles. So when we talk about people who have been shot by mentally ill people, I understand it. I understand what it does to the victims.”
Byrne told the Washington Post on Friday that he had not discussed his family’s tragedy publicly until several shootings by mentally ill individuals made headlines, compelling him to share his very personal experience.
“A younger man in (my grandmother’s) neighborhood who was mentally ill, and there wasn’t any provocation. … He shot and killed my grandfather,” Byrne recalled.
The fatal shooting left his grandmother to raise three young children on her own, in the midst of the Great Depression.
“I know at least a generation removed how it feels to have somebody in your family taken like that,” he said. “And my heart goes out to them.”
But while President Obama has used such tragedies to illustrate the need to implement more stringent gun control regulations, Byrne says that approach is misguided.
“Every one of these mass shootings that we’ve seen in the last couple of years in America, the guns were purchased legally through a gun dealer who did background checks,” he said. “At some point, you’ve got to say, ‘Now wait a minute, that’s the responsibility of the person who has the gun.’ … Don’t penalize the other 90-plus percent of people in America who buy guns legally and use them legally and don’t hurt anybody because we have a tiny percentage of people who have violated that.”
Instead of clamping down on law abiding citizens’ access to guns, Byrne said it is time to have a serious discussion about mental health. With that in mind, he is co-sponsoring a bill that aims to overhaul the country’s entire mental health care system.
“We’re not going to solve this problem if we’re not going to talk about changing the mental health policy of the United States,” he said. “Let’s talk about that.”