The following is a transcript of an interview with Asa Hutchinson, former governor of Arkansas, that aired on “Face the Nation” on April 16, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who is attending a Republican gathering in Nashville. Governor, it’s good to have you here. I know you’ve said you are running for president. So I want to start there. What is the affirmative reason you want to be chief executive of the United States of America?
FMR. GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON: Because we need leadership that brings out the best of America and doesn’t appeal to our worst instincts. We need to have leadership that understands our responsibility across the globe, and that we’re not an isolationist party or country. And so whenever you look at the challenges we face from the economy, that we could be headed into a recession, to our border security and the fentanyl crisis that we face, to the lack of energy supply that’s so critical to our growth in our country. These are all issues that I think need to be solved. And my experience as Congress, as head of the DEA, involved in national security issues, gives me the capability to address those and I’m excited about the opportunity to run.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I want to ask you about one of the issues on the mind, certainly of a lot of American parents, according to our polling that is most certainly gun violence six in 10 parents say their kids express worry to them about gun violence, either a lot or sometimes. You were with us last after Uvalde when an 18-year-old man took an AR-15, carrying three times the amount of ammunition that a soldier carries into combat and massacred elementary school children. At that period of time, you told me, the U.S. should look at the type of triggers that can alert law enforcement. What triggers do you want to write into law?
FMR. GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, whenever you look at each of these incidences of mass shootings, and that’s the challenge that we face in America, we ought to always be looking at what can make a difference, what can we do to save lives. And that’s why I worked very hard on the National School Shield initiative as to what expertise we could bring in the schools to bring more safety. Whenever you look at the Uvalde shooting, I looked at what the solutions were, and thank goodness, we had Senator Cornyn and Senator Murphy that stepped up to the plate and said there’s a bipartisan solution that can address that particular instance. And so these are steps that are- been proven to be successful in- in saving lives. And I think we continue to look at what can be done.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that appears to be the limit of what Congress is willing to do, that Bipartisan Safer Communities Act you just referenced. And in it, there was over a billion dollars appropriated for mental health resources at school, just $188 million has actually been allocated to about 30 states, there was money in it to incentivize red flag laws. But in these states like Kentucky and Tennessee, where these shootings have just happened, they don’t have red flag laws, they don’t appear to want them there. So how do you fix that connection between mental health and mass shootings?
FMR. GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, the investment is important. And in Arkansas, we made sure that our school counselors can devote them time to actually counseling with students and not doing administrative work. And so putting more money into the school resources and the mental health services across the board are important. Secondly–
MARGARET BRENNAN: More than a billion dollars already allocated.
FMR. GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, the states have to pick up that responsibility as well. And yes, you shift into enhancing those mental health services, but also making sure that we have the capacity to identify and respond if someone poses a risk. And this is important, Margaret, that we have to look at actually utilizing the law that’s on the books, and it’s been there since the 70s, but it was used in a different way. And that is if somebody is a danger to themselves or a risk to others, then they can be committed. It has to go before a judge, there has to be a hearing on it. But we are utilizing that and that- we need to change the context of our society to take those steps whenever we identify those mental health problems that pose those kinds of risks.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, but that assumes identification of the problem. The shooter in Louisville was 25-years-old. His family said he had no history of violence. He had no police record, and he bought an AR-15 style weapon six days before he carried out this massacre. Your solution doesn’t solve for that.
FMR. GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, it doesn’t solve every problem. You’ve got- you’ve got instances of mass shootings that are caused by mental illness and the failure to respond to those instances you can identify and here you cite a case where I think we’re still learning the facts, but it’s evil. And you’ve got to be able to enforce the law and you’ve got to send the signal that there’s going to be serious consequences and the death penalty when somebody through a pure act of evil carries out that kind of shooting.
MARGARET BRENNAN: He was killed.
FMR. GOV. HUTCHINSON: And so you’ve got to go to the heart of that problem.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, he was killed on site. The CDC says that more than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. So the numbers are with you in terms of mental health crisis in this country. That’s 50% of Americans. How are you going to decide who has enough of a problem to institutionalize? Where are you going to draw that line?
FMR. GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, that’s the line that I just recited, that’s in the law currently, which is not that you have- are suffering from depression or not that you have to go into counseling for some reason. We all have those issues in life. But if it reaches the point of paranoia, sociopathic behavior, or that you’re a risk to yourself of suicide, or you’re a risk to others in terms of homicide, then we as a society, if we can identify that which we can we have to act on it. And- and it’s not adjudicated by a police officer, it is by a court where evidence is received. But we have failed in our society to utilize and to act upon that. And so mental illness is there. But whenever it gets to the level of risk and danger to others, we should act as a society. And we’ve ignored that for the last really 50 years. And we’re going to have to change if we’re going to address the issues that we see.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But there are states who are literally turning down money on the table that’s in that act you just praised to put in place red flag laws that would allow for family members to say, ‘Hey, my loved one is a danger and shouldn’t be allowed to buy that weapon.’ Those state governments in Tennessee and in Kentucky didn’t have those laws, they didn’t want them there. So are you talking about some national law you want to create here that would force those states to do things to prevent people with how you define mental illness buying weapons?
FMR. GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, there’s two separate issues here. One is the red flag law that you raised. And then secondly, there is the adjudication through a court of law for someone who poses a risk to themselves or to others. And that’s on the books, it’s in virtually every state. And that’s dependent upon action that a family member might take when they identify another family member, that is a risk. It might be the police that could identify that of somebody that’s on the streets, or it could be a whole host of ways, but it would get it into court. So this is not a federal law that needs to be passed. It is actually a matter of practice and that the civil libertarians pushed us away from this action 50 years ago, and we’ve never returned to that kind of action when we see the problem in an individual. On the red flag law, that is a separate issue. And there’s a resistance because it’s not going into a court and fully adjudicating it. It is- we’re still studying the experience that they had in Florida on this. We want to make sure it’s due process. It’s fair. You’re not unnecessarily taking firearms away from somebody just because they say they’re having a bad day.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor, there’s so much more to get into with you. I gotta leave it there for today. Thank you for joining us.