First Republican Candidate Responds To Kalamazoo Massacre

Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during a Town Hall at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Monday, Feb. 22, 2016.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Monday became the first Republican presidential candidate to address the recent mass shooting in Kalamazoo, Michigan, saying the next president should focus on mental health and not try to “take people’s guns away.”

Asked by ThinkProgress how he would bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of gun control, Kasich pivoted to mental health, saying access to care was the real issue surrounding America’s mass shooting problem.

“You know, it’s another issue of mental illness,” Kasich said. “And frankly, I’m doing everything I can in my state to make sure we can take relief to those who, you know, who live on the edge like that.”

Kasich said that expanding access to mental health care was one of the reasons he broke with other Republican governors and expanded Medicaid in Ohio under Obamacare. He recalled the tragic story of Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds, who was nearly stabbed to death by his 24-year-old son Gus, before Gus eventually killed himself. The day before, Gus had been turned away from a mental health facility because there were no beds available for him.

“We have to take this issue seriously,” Kasich said. “And if all of a sudden we said OK, well if we just try and take people’s guns away, that will solve it, I don’t believe it will. I think we have to focus on what we all know needs to be done.”

Listen to Kasich’s full answer here:

Kasich also said on Monday that while people with mental health disorders are not predisposed to violent behavior, mental health disorders represented “a similarity” between all the recent mass shooters. Recent research published in the American Journal of Public Health, however, found that “surprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes.” Less than 3 percent to 5 percent of U.S. crimes involve people with mental illness, it said, and fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were committed by individuals diagnosed with mental illness.

Kasich has responded similarly to past mass shootings over the course of his presidential campaign. In October, after 10 people were killed at a rampage at an Oregon community college, Kasich said he opposed “stripping law abiding people of their guns.” Supporters of gun control measures argue, however, that putting restrictions on gun purchases — like expanding background checks and allowing scientific research into gun safety — does not prevent law-abiding people from buying guns.

Before his governorship and campaign, Kasich was not always strictly against any gun control measure. Though he has expanded gun rights in Ohio, Kasich received an “F” grade from the National Rifle Association after supporting the federal ban on assault weapons that passed in 1994, NBC reported.