MEADOW LAKE — During a recent town hall meeting with a U.S. congresswoman, questions ranged from health care to school lunches to the environment, but much of the discussion centered around gun violence and mass shootings.

Congressional District 1 U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland hosted a “Coffee with your Congresswoman” at the Meadow Lake Community Center last Saturday, which drew close to 50 residents.

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland talks to members of the crowd gathered at the Meadow Lake Community Center last Saturday morning for a town hall with the congresswoman.
Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo

One of the first questions of the day was how she and other members of Congress planned to address gun violence.

Haaland said the House has passed two bills — one that would ensure everyone trying to buy a gun was subject to a background check, and a second that extended the waiting period from three to 10 days.

She pointed out that Dylann Roof, who was convicted of shooting and killing 33 people at a South Carolina church in 2015, put the wrong address on his application.

“After three days, they weren’t able to complete the background check but he was able to get the gun,” Haaland said. “We want to extend the waiting period to 10 days to make sure the checks are done properly.”

The gun used in a shooting in Gilroy, Calif., that left four people dead, including the gunman, was illegal to own in the state, Haaland said, but was legally purchased in Arizona and brought across the state line.

“That tells me we need to have a federal law so everybody is on the same page,” Haaland said. “I just hope these bills will be put up for a vote by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). I hope they put the lives of our children and citizens first.”

One man said universal background checks only affect law-abiding citizens, saying the government should be doing its job by notifying the federal government when someone is legally classified mentally ill.

Haaland brought up the incorrect address on Roof’s application, to which the man replied it wouldn’t have disqualified him from buying the gun. The congresswoman argued he wouldn’t have gotten the gun in three days.

“So he would have shot them 10 days later,” the man replied. “What’s the difference?”

Haaland said the proposed laws are meant to keep people safe, asking if he would be willing to wait 10 days to purchase a gun.

“As a law-abiding citizen, it doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “But it’s dishonest to say it’s going to save lives.”

With 253 mass shootings since January, Haaland agreed not all of them would have been stopped.

“But if it stops one or two or three or 10, is it worth it?” she asked.

“No,” the man replied.

Another man said one of the root causes of mass shootings — mental health — was being ignored.

“If they fail a background check, they still have mental health issues and can harm the community,” he said.

Haaland said there is no question money needs to be put into behavioral health, along with counselors, nurses and other health care providers in public schools.

“We need to spend more money in education. We need to put the health and welfare of our children above everything else,” she said. “There’s enough money for everything we want in this country. We’re just not spending it the right way.”

A third-grade teacher at Ann Parish Elementary said she was concerned about how the federal funding cuts are affecting free and reduced lunches, noting the school was 100 percent free and reduced.

Last year’s tax plan saw the richest corporations in the country not only not have to pay taxes, but get a $129 million in returns, Haaland said.

“The idea was it will trickle down but what they are finding is they have to cut other programs to make ends meet,” she said. “We’re up in arms. We are all pushing and doing everything we can to stop these cuts. Poor folks should not be paying for rich folks tax breaks.”

One man asked how uranium clean up on Native American lands was being handled.

Haaland said her No. 1 issue is the environment.

“It doesn’t help that the (Environmental Protection Agency) has essentially been gutted by this administration,” she said. “During budget hearings, the (House Natural Resources Committee) brought in various department secretaries to find out why they aren’t doing anything to address the contamination. Since we’ve been in the majority, we have put these issues on the table.”

Haaland’s Albuquerque office is at 400 Gold Avenue SW, Ste. 680, on the sixth floor. She recommended calling ahead at 346-6781 to schedule time with her staff.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.