President Barack Obama steered away from direct comments about gun control during a news conference on Friday. However, he did call for "meaningful action" in response to the tragedy. (Photo by CBS News)
By Beth Whisman
SPRINGFIELD - The head of the Illinois State Rifle Association says legislating gun control will not stop tragedies such as Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
ISRA Director Richard Pearson told WJBC's Jim Fitzpatrick that creating gun-free zones doesn't make people safer. In fact, he argued that can be more dangerous for law abiding citizens.
"Every mass killing in the United States since 1985 has been in a gun-free zone," said Pearson. "These things make cowards like (Adam Lanza) brave because they know there's going to be absolutely no resistance there."
Pearson said the federal and state government should focus more on dealing with mental health needs rather than gun control. He speculated it would save more lives in the long run to offer better funding and access for mental health programs.
Pearson pointed out that many of the shooters at the center of mass killings in recent years have suffered from mental illness, including the theater slayings in Colorado.
"We don't know what's going to unfold in this story here, but my guess is that we have a similar situation here," said Pearson. "And if people do nothing, then guys like this get away with it."
One possible exception seems to be the recent mall shooting in Oregon. Friends of the gunman in that case told police he was happy-go-lucky until a few weeks before the incident.
Pearson said he didn't want to politicize the horrible deaths of the 20 children and six adults in Connecticut. But, he said it's also not fair to use the incident as a platform for more gun control.
"You've never been able to stop a maniac in any society," he said. "The only thing you are able to do is defend yourself against those maniacs."
Advocates and opponents for gun control in Illinois have been exchanging barbs this week following a federal appeals court decision against the state's ban on concealed carry of firearms.
During a news conference on Friday, President Obama promised "meaningful action" to prevent similar mass shootings in the future. He did not specifically discuss the expired assault weapons ban that he has asked Congress to renew.
Beth Whisman can be reached at email@example.com.