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Sen. Alexander says background checks, not gun bans, key to reducing mass shootings

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Banning the AR-15 rifle isn’t off the table, Sen. Lamar Alexander said Wednesday, but the Tennessee Republican is focused on other measures to strengthen gun safety including strengthening background checks for gun buyers.

Alexander, speaking on WREG’s Live at Nine, called the AR-15  “a very murderous weapon,” although he pointed out it is technically not an assault weapon.

The semi-automatic rifle and its variants have been used in the recent mass shooting at a Florida high school, as well as shootings in Las Vegas, Texas and elsewhere.

“No, it’s not off the table, but I think anytime you talk about banning weapons that’s a different discussion than keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” he said.

To that end, Alexander said he is co-sponsoring legislation that will offer financial incentives to states that work harder to run gun buyers through the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Sen. Bob Corker also is a co-sponsor of that bill.

The “Fix NICS Act” was introduced following last year’s shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The shooter was able to buy guns because the Air Force had not shared his criminal record with the database.

Alexander also said he supports regulating “bump stocks,” which were used by Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock to make his AR-15s more deadly.

Both bills are supported by the National Rifle Association.

The Washington Post reported that Alexander had received contributions from the NRA of more than $14,000 over the last 20 years. Alexander said Wednesday he didn’t think he had received contributions from the NRA in recent years going back to 2014.

Speaking on the mental health aspect of gun regulation, Alexander said there is a need for more counselors in schools to identify troubled children like Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 at a high school in Florida.

But background checks, Alexander said, are the “key” to reducing gun violence.