Herschel Walker‘s response to Texas shootings reflects on his own history with guns

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

As Republican U.S. Senate nominee Herschel Walker launches his general election campaign, he is struggling to talk about guns.

Twice in recent days Walker has fumbled questions on gun control: In one interview he seemed to suggest monitoring young people’s social media activity, and in another he dodged the question altogether.

The issue has burst into the spotlight again after an 18-year-old armed with an AR-15-style rifle shot and killed 19 students and two teachers Tuesday at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school. Eleven days earlier a shooter killed 10 at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

The topic is sensitive for Walker. Like many Republicans, he is an ardent champion of gun rights. But firearms have also played a big role in his own turbulent personal history.

Walker’s ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, said he repeatedly held a gun to her head and threatened to blow her “brains out.” A Dallas County judge was worried enough about the possibility of violence that in 2005 he temporarily took away Walker’s guns when he granted Grossman a restraining order. Walker has chalked up the violent episodes to a mental illness he said has now been treated.

Hours after Tuesday’s deadly shooting in Texas, Walker took the stage in a ballroom at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta to claim victory in the GOP’s six-candidate U.S. Senate primary. He began by bowing his head to pray.

“We’ve had a big tragedy in Texas,” Walker said to the room of supporters. “Just close your eyes a moment and say a special prayer.”

Soon afterward, as he walked through the room with his wife, Julie, he was asked by a CNN reporter whether the shooting should lead to new gun laws.

“What I like to do is see it and everything and stuff,” he said, walking away from the reporter.

He had another chance to clear things up in a Fox News interview Thursday morning.

“What about looking at getting a department that can look at young men that’s looking at women that’s looking at their social media?” Walker asked.

Walker eventually said he supported mental health funding, but he wasn’t specific.

“This has been happening for years,” Walker said.

“The way we stop it (is) about putting money into the mental health field,” he said. ”It’s about putting money into other departments rather than a department that just wants to take away your rights.”

Following that interview, Walker’s campaign provided The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a statement calling him “a strong supporter of the Second Amendment” and said he “will always fight for our Constitutional rights.”

“We have a serious mental health crisis in this country. Whether in Buffalo or Uvalde — the perpetrators of these horrible shootings clearly suffered from serious mental illness problems,” spokeswoman Mallory Blount said.

“Nobody has been a more vocal advocate for addressing mental health issues than Herschel Walker, and he will continue to do so in the Senate,” she said.

In the wake of the Texas tragedy, Congress is again discussing whether to adopt a national “red flag law.” House Democrats are expected to take up a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, a Georgia Democrat, early next month. Senate leaders are also talking about a compromise measure.

Several states already have “red flag laws,” which allow authorities to temporarily confiscate firearms from people if a judge decides they are dangerous.

Walker’s campaign did not immediately respond when asked Thursday whether he supported such laws.

But his own past behavior might have made him subject to one if they had existed, experts said. Walker has said that he was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, once known as multiple personality disorder.

In his 2008 memoir, “Breaking Free,” Walker wrote about his urge to shoot a man who was late delivering a car and described playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun.

In September 2001, police summoned to Walker’s home in Irving, Texas, said he had “violent tendencies and has talked about having a shootout with police,” according to a law enforcement report.

In 2005, the restraining order issued by a Dallas County judge acted as a kind of red flag law. Under red flag laws, things such as violent behavior, threat of self-harm or a mental health crisis could be cause for an extreme risk protection order.

“The idea is to stop something that may imminently happen,” said Jeff Binkley, a Dunwoody resident whose daughter Maura was killed in a shooting at a Florida yoga studio.

Walker is running against Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock. His campaign did not immediately say whether he supported red flag laws. In the aftermath of the shooting, Warnock tweeted that it was “horrific and numbing.”