"There is a lot of emotion driving this debate," Thune said Thursday afternoon during a town hall meeting at the Highland Conference Center in Mitchell. "We need to prevent this in the future, and make the schools and our kids safer.
"And frankly, I don't think it has to do with restrictions on the Second Amendment."
Thune, who said he owns a shotgun and two handguns, discussed the issue with The Daily Republic before the meeting, which primarily focused on government spending and taxation. But he also fielded a question on gun control during the one-hour event.
Randy Boyd, of Boyds ' Gunstock Industries in Mitchell, said a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would cause him to lose 20 percent of his business. Feinstein's bill would prohibit the "sale, transfer, the importation and the possession, not retroactively, but prospectively," of assault weapons that hold more than 10 bullets.
Boyd, who said he has 100 employees, asked Thune what President Obama could do by executive order, a move that was hinted at Wednesday by Vice President Joe Biden.
Thune said the potential for an executive order has a lot to do with politics, because many in Congress do not want to vote on bills that impact the Second Amendment.
"This is a very far-reaching proposal," Thune said. "I hope Congress doesn't overreach like it has in the past. Frankly, it's going to be a real battle."
He said he is willing to listen to all sides, consider options and have "an open mind," but he fears logic will be overwhelmed by feelings.
"Keep this about the facts. There's a lot of emotion around this," Thune said. "We ought to make decisions predicated on the facts."
He said he wants to prevent mass murders and make schools safer, but he said guns are not the primary cause.
"It has more to do with the people that are committing these crimes and the conditions they are in, and signals they send to people before they attack," he said.
Just making guns more difficult to access won't solve anything, in his view. He also favors tightening the process to check on people before they buy guns, but doesn't see a need to outlaw certain kinds of weapons.
"I think it's really hard to make guns the issue in all this. Obviously, there's no one thing you can point to. There' s a lot of factors weighing on safety," he said. "We ought to have a conversation on making our schools and our children safer.
'A spending problem'
During the meeting, Thune called for reductions in government spending in light of the ongoing dispute over the federal budget and debt.
"This is not a revenue problem," Thune said. "It's a spending problem."
Spending, especially on entitlement programs, has to be curbed to avoid economic disaster, Thune said. The United States ran up $6.3 trillion in debt in its first 232 years, he added, but another $5.3 trillion has been piled on since President Obama took office in 2009.
The second-term Republican senator has been making his case during meetings in Madison, Brookings, Watertown and Yankton as well as Mitchell. He plans to hold meetings in Aberdeen, Rapid City, North Sioux City and Sioux Falls in the next few days.
Thune said while he didn't like many things in the bill passed Jan. 1 to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, it had to be done to avoid taxes increasing on almost all Americans.
President Obama got what he wanted in the fiscal showdown, Thune said, because more revenue will be collected with higher taxes on some Americans. But the tough choices on where to cut have yet to be made.
He said to save Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, several options need to be on the table:
--The federal government needs to accurately measure inflation and tie it to the Consumer Price Index.
--The government must undertake fundamental tax reform and eliminate the loopholes that dot the current tax system.
--Medicare needs to offer choices and create greater competition.
--A phased-in age adjustment to Social Security to raise the age limit must be discussed and probably implemented.
--Income testing for Medicare and Social Security should be considered.
--The federal government must allow states more flexibility to meet their needs with Medicaid.
"These are all unpopular things," Thune said. "None of these things is going to be easy."
He said leadership from the White House and Congress is needed.
"We need the president to be engaged," Thune said. "And on the spending side, he has not been."
In addition, he said there is a great need to reform and re-prioritize the size and role of government.
"We ought to be looking at policies that create growth and encourage economic growth in our country," Thune said.
He said the federal government essentially "throws a wet blanket" over efforts to launch new businesses and create economic development. It increases costs and discourages growth, he said.
Waste, fraud and abuse must be curtailed, he said, but that is not near enough. Cuts have to be made in spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
"If we do nothing, those programs go bankrupt," Thune said. "We've got to save those programs.
--Trail King CEO Bruce Yakley told Thune if Republican Mitt Romney would have won the election, he would have added 150 jobs.
"Because of the way the election turned out, we're not," Yakley said.
He said while Republicans favor cuts in spending, Obama only wants more taxes. His company fears dire economic times are ahead, and therefore will not look for more workers.
--Thune said keeping the tax rate on capital gains at 15 percent was an important victory for the GOP in the fiscal cliff compromise. Obama got what he wanted with higher taxes on wealthier Americans, Thune said, but lower taxes on investments can help fuel development.
--Thune hailed the new deal on the estate tax, which Republicans call the "death tax." Thune said with rising farm and ranch values, the vast majority of ag -land-owning families would have been exposed to heavy taxes without this new rate.
--Dick Frederick said most Americans are weary of the constant battles in Washington, and the sense that nothing is getting done. He asked Thune why there isn't more of a sense of shared effort.
Frederick then said he fears the country is sliding toward socialism, and also called for drug testing of welfare recipients and greatly reducing foreign aid.
"I couldn't agree more," Thune said. He said there is a "big difference in this country" on the role of government, and it's on display in Congress as elected officials battle over issues that expose their deep divides.
--The senator was asked if he would help investigate the Libyan Embassy attacks, and if he favored impeaching the president for illegally engaging in overseas actions. One woman in the audience applauded that idea.
"We've got to get to the bottom of what happened there," Thune said, noting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is preparing to testify before Congress on the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
"I hope she is prepared to be grilled," he said. "The administration needs to be grilled over that."
--Thune was asked how the Republican Party can reach out to younger voters.
He said the Democrats use "modern tools of communication," including social media, much better than the GOP. It makes a "huge difference" with young people, Thune said.
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