Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Walsh released a multi-point plan Monday to reduce gun violence and combat a "terrible storm" of domestic terrorism and hate crime in the wake of last weekend's shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Walsh said he would enact "common-sense national gun regulations," a school-safety program and increased funds for research and treatment for mental health issues that can lead to violence.
"We are at a moment of crisis, and it's time to act," said Walsh, a former U.S. attorney for Colorado.
"What used to be considered an extraordinary, unusual event has become routine. We're at a moment where I think the vast majority of Americans realize the action is necessary. But to really address these issues, we have to be comprehensive in our approach and not just check a box here and there, but think about it as the public safety and public health issue that it has become."
Walsh's plan also calls for programs to prevent and respond to "domestic terrorism perpetrated by white supremacists and violence that is motivated by racial or religious bias more broadly," including restoring federal funds that the Trump administration cut for a group that rehabilitates former neo-Nazis.
"We have a tested methodology in the countering violent extremism strategy implemented by the Obama administration that can be done with fidelity to civil rights but can also help us identify and prevent violence," Walsh said, pointing to his experience helping lead the Obama-era Countering Violent Extremism initiatives and the work of groups such as Life After Hate.
"There's no question that the domestic terrorism issue has been one that we need to approach carefully. But at the same time, especially over the last couple of years, we've seen such a dramatic increase in the number of events that pretending we can ignore them and treat each one as a crime — a routine, random crime — that's sticking our heads in the sand," Walsh said.
"There is a much broader poison abroad in the country."
Noting that he regularly made presentations on violent extremism when he was U.S. attorney, Walsh said, "The face of violent extremism in Colorado, almost without exception, has been white supremacists. That's an issue we have to look in the eye and address forthrightly.
"The point is, this isn't new, just that the severity of the problem has risen."
He also wants to implement universal background checks, limit large capacity ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, restrict the sale and possession of military-style assault weapons, and pass federal "red flag" laws that let judges order the temporary seizure of guns from those deemed a threat to themselves or others, among other measures.
Walsh acknowledged that critics have raised valid questions about some of these measures, many of which were in a 2013 legislative package blocked in the Senate. But he insisted the questions have answers.
"Multiple federal appeals courts have upheld actual assault weapon bans against Second Amendment challenge," he said. "Period.
"The law is clear. If you can structure a thoughtful law limiting — I use the phrase military-style weapons — it is a valid criticism how we define the weapons we're talking about. My focus is on weapons that cause a disproportionate harm, and that includes weapons that have a very high muzzle velocity," said Walsh, who proposes limiting possession of those weapons to those age 25 and up.
"That's a technical issue we're going to have to work out."
Any comprehensive gun violence strategy must include federal funds for mental health programs, he said.
"This must be more than just 'labeling' gun violence as a mental health issue, but rather providing substantial funding for research and treatment resources for mental health issues leading to violence, including gun violence, domestic terrorism and hate crimes," he said.
"People say, 'Is it about common-sense gun regulation, or is it about mental health?' as if the two are mutually exclusive. They're not. It's about both. We have to address the way we go about regulating guns, but at the same time, we do have to address the fact we don't have the mental health resources that we need to address the problem."
Walsh is one of 11 Democrats running in a primary for the seat held by Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner.