EXCLUSIVE: Sen. Orrin Hatch Talks Candidly About His Anti-School Violence Bill, Gun Control, and the Omnibus

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, center, puts his arm around Patrick Petty, 17, from Parkland, Fla., during a news conference with Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., left, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., right, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 13, 2018. Petty's sister Alaina Petty, one of the victims of the Parkland school shooting. Hatch is the lead sponsor of the school safety bill, aiming to replicate the success of a program in his home state of Utah. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, center, puts his arm around Patrick Petty, 17,  from Parkland, Fla., during a news conference with Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., left, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., right, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 13, 2018. Petty’s sister, Alaina Petty, was one of the victims of the Parkland school shooting. Hatch is the lead sponsor of the school safety bill, aiming to replicate the success of a program in his home state of Utah. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) may be retiring at the end of his term, but he’s not coasting through his final year in the United States Senate. Utah’s senior senator has continued to be vocal on a number of issues — and feistier than ever on social media — including taking the lead on an anti-school violence bill, the Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act.

Speaking exclusively to RedState, Hatch discussed this bill, his thoughts on gun control and the March For Our Lives protesters, and the latest omnibus spending bill, which contains his STOP School Violence Act as well as Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-TX) Fix NICS bill, which seeks to fix problems with the national firearms purchasing background check system.

Hatch is proud of his role with the STOP School Violence Act, saying that he had “great interest” in how to solve the problem of school shootings and school violence, but wanted to be clear that the work had started well before the February 14th shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“We started working with families from Sandy Hook on this bill several months ago with Senator [Amy] Klobuchar (D-MN),” Hatch explained, referring to the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. “They had some really great ideas about making our schools safer, but after the Parkland shooting, it certainly increased the urgency of this bill.”

Hatch said that they had been “grateful to have this help and advice of the families from Parkland as well as from the Sandy Hook people.” As RedState has reported, the families of the seventeen Parkland victims have publicly announced their support for the bill, and several of them have travelled recently to Washington to meet with lawmakers and their staffs to encourage them to vote for it. Sandy Hook Promise, an organization representing the Sandy Hook families, were similarly vocal in their support for the bill, issuing a statement explaining its provisions and urging their supporters to call their Senators and ask them to vote for it.

“Let me be very clear,” he continued, “those who have experienced this kind of tragedy have earned the right to speak out and say whatever they want about it, and we should be listening as much as we can.”

The Senate passed the omnibus bill in the middle of the night on a 65-32 vote, and the House voted in favor of it yesterday, so the bill now heads for President Donald Trump’s desk for signature. Hatch and I spoke by phone several hours before the Senate vote but he was optimistic then that the bill would pass: “I think we can pass this into law…I expect it to pass the Senate.”

Hatch expressed his admiration for the Parkland families, the strength that they had shown in the face of this tragedy, and the unified way they were supporting reforms they believed would help protect other families from experiencing the same kind of pain.

These were real tragedies and naturally my heart and soul go out to them,” Hatch said. “I don’t think any of us can even imagine how we would react if something like that happened to one of our children.”

“It’s been incredible to see these families from Sandy Hook and Parkland channel that particular grief and anger into action like this,” he added.

The fact that the Parkland shooting was only just over a month ago, and yet these people were able to work together and help get legislation passed in Florida, and now moving at the federal level, Hatch found especially remarkable.

He spoke fondly of his time meeting with Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina Petty was killed in the shooting, and his son Patrick Petty, a senior at the same school, as well as Kyle Kashuv, another Stoneman Douglas student who has taken an active role in supporting these bills. Kashuv and the Pettys were among those who traveled to Washington and met with Hatch, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), and other members of the House and Senate from both parties.

“Speaking to Ryan and Patrick Petty, and Kyle, and hearing from all those other families, I’ve been incredibly moved by their attitudes,” he said. “They’re incredible people.”

“Their desire is to just do what is right here, so that hopefully these types of things will never happen again” Hatch continued. “Despite everything they’ve been through, they came in with the attitude of wanting to find common ground and bring people together.”

Hatch never directly criticized the pro-gun control protests, associated with some of the other Stoneman Douglas students like David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, and Emma Gonzalez. He did remark that he could “understand those who want to blame people,” and acknowledged that they were “completely justified” in that feeling and in the desire to “make a point,” but thought that the approach of the Parkland families who had met with him and worked with the Sandy Hook parents to advance this bill was the wiser path.

“They started from a place of really wanting to get something done, not wanting to make a point, not wanting to just vent their antagonism…these families from Parkland came in wanting to make a difference, saying that this time had to be different.”

“And at the end of this, they can say that they helped pass a historic bill that will make a difference,” said Hatch. “So that’s what my goal here is.”

“Media always takes that position because they want full gun control, and that’s just not going to happen in our society today,” Hatch replied when asked specifically about the greater share of media attention that’s been focused on the pro-gun control students. “It’s not as simple as people sometimes think it is,” he added, and bills like his were the “only thing that’s going to move forward.”

“I’m here to focus on areas that we can agree on, and that particular area is school safety,” he said. “Frankly, there are always those who want to make political points rather than get something done, and I want to get something done here that would make it very difficult for these types of things to happen again.”

“But if all we do is argue over gun control, we’re not going to get anything done, and next thing you know, we’ll have another Parkland.”

As mentioned earlier, the omnibus bill did pass when the Senate voted after midnight. During our interview, Hatch acknowledged the criticisms of omnibus bills, but was optimistic it would pass and was glad that his bill was included in it. “Everybody knows that omnibus bills are conglomerated bills that have lots of problems, they have a lot of good points, they have a lot of bad points, so it’s a matter of let’s get this bill done and let’s get it done right.”

After the vote, Hatch’s office tweeted about the STOP School Violence Act passing along with the omnibus, as well as sharing tweets from Rubio and Kashuv about the bill.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker