Boehner says there's 'no question' mentally ill shouldn't have guns

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday said there’s “no question” that mentally ill people should be prevented from buying guns, a day after a soldier with a history of mental illness killed three people at Fort Hood in Texas. 

“There’s no question that those with mental health issues should be prevented from owning weapons or being able to purchase weapons,” Boehner said at a Capitol event.

Earlier Thursday, Army Secretary John McHugh said at a Senate hearing that Spc. Ivan Lopez, 34, had been treated for depression before he opened fire Wednesday at the military base, killing three and wounding 16 before taking his own life.

Boehner and House Republicans have resisted the push by Democrats and President Obama to enact stricter gun laws in the wake of prominent mass shootings, including a 2009 massacre at Fort Hood.

The Speaker pointed to legislation the House and Senate passed late last month to prevent a cut in Medicare reimbursement payments to doctors. He said that bill contained funding for pilot programs studying the link between gun violence and mental illness.

“This issue we need to continue to look at to find a way to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” Boehner said.

Boehner was speaking alongside Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Republican House members and veterans groups to push legislation that aimed to boost accountability at the Veterans administration, which has come under heavy criticism for its backlog in handling healthcare claims and incidences of preventable deaths.

He opened the event by offering condolences and prayers for the victims at Fort Hood.

“We stand with you, we stand by you and we’re praying for you,” Boehner said.

Boehner and the lawmakers sharply criticized the VA and its management, saying the department had “stonewalled” Congress and its efforts to provide oversight.

The House legislation would make it easier for the department’s secretary to fire senior officials.

“It’s easier for them to receive bonuses that it is for them to be fired,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

The VA opposes the bill, saying it would strip away key employee rights.

“VA must remain competitive to recruit and retain the best people in order to continue our progress.,” spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said in a statement earlier this week. “Changes that would single out VA employees for punishment by removing existing federal civil service rules not only put VA at a competitive disadvantage, but can ultimately harm VA’s ability to best serve veterans.”

Dillon said that while “there is always more work to do,” the VA had improved its responsiveness in recent years, including enrolling two million veterans in healthcare.

This story was updated at 12:41 p.m.

— Bernie Becker contributed.