ELKHART — U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly was at a Martin's Super Market on Saturday, Jan. 18, when hundreds gathered for a vigil to remember the two women killed in the shootings that rocked Elkhart last week.
He didn't speak, but, rather, said he showed up to the event, held outside the supermarket, because the incident hit so close to home, literally and figuratively.
“This is my home,” the Granger Democrat said Thursday, Jan. 23, in a meeting with the Elkhart Truth editorial board. “I live 20 minutes away.”
The killings of Krystle Dikes, 20, and Rachelle Godfread, 44, shocked many, including Donnelly, who noted his frequent forays as a shopper to Martin's Super Market locations and that many of his children's high school classmates worked at the company's stores in the area. Shawn Bair, 22, killed Dikes and Godfread at the East Bristol Street Martin's on Jan. 15 before Elkhart police, called to the scene, shot and killed Bair.
“It's 10 o'clock at night, I mean, I've done this a million times. Coming home and stopping at Martin's at the Side Door Deli and picking up this or picking up that. And you look at that, and it could have been any of us,” he said. “I just wanted to be there to support those families and the Elkhart Police Department, who did unbelievable work.”
More broadly, Donnelly said it's because of such incidents, including the Purdue University shooting Tuesday that left a student dead, that he voted last April for legislation requiring background checks of those buying guns at gun shows. The legislation, crafted in part in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings in Connecticut in late 2012, ultimately failed.
He doesn't foresee such legislation emerging again anytime soon. But noting, without elaboration, that “mental issues” may have factored in the incident here, he said there could be legislation pointing in that direction.
“That's where, I think, there's going to be a push this next year. How do we make improvements in mental health care, mental health treatment, mental health management?” Donnelly said.
He doesn't have many particulars at this early stage, and it's not clear how such legislation would bear, if at all, on Second Amendment gun rights. Furthermore, it's not clear what sort of support it would potentially muster among lawmakers.
“It should (gain traction),” Donnelly said. “I don't know if it will, but it should.”
Still, he expressed a measure of optimism. “I believe in the Second Amendment, I believe in responsible gun ownership. But I believe we can make improvements and I think that the mental health area is the place to start,” Donnelly said.
There may be discord over the notion of new rules relating to gun registration and background checks, he continued. “But how can you be against trying to make sure that folks who have mental challenges, that we have appropriate laws in place regarding firearms?” he said.
At the vigil, Donnelly met with the two Elkhart police officers who shot and killed Bair and they're “still numb,” he said.
“I said, 'You know, there are a lot of people who were able to survive that night because of what you did,'” said Donnelly. “They said, 'Look, we can hardly compute what happened. We just went in and ... we're still working through it.'”
Donnelly's visit was part of a series of stops at locales all this week across Indiana. He touched on legislative efforts in 2013 and likely legislative focuses for this coming year.