OPINION: A newly drawn 6th District will likely have a very new voice on guns

Dr. Rich McCormick and attorney Jake Evans are headed to a runoff in the Republican primary in Georgia's 6th Congressional District.

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Dr. Rich McCormick and attorney Jake Evans are headed to a runoff in the Republican primary in Georgia's 6th Congressional District.

Heather Kauffman, a mom in Dunwoody, knows her congresswoman, U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, lost her only child to gun violence and then ran for Congress to advocate for gun safety.

But McBath is about to become Kauffman’s former congresswoman, since Republican lawmakers redrew the 6th District to be far more conservative and McBath decided to run in the new 7th District instead.

“She was targeted and they just basically took her from us,” Kauffman said. “It’s a dampening of the voices around here. They took our common community and split it in two.”

Republicans also drew lines likely to change the partisan makeup of the state’s Congressional delegation from eight Republicans and six Democrats to nine Republicans and five Democrats. The 6th District Democratic vote has been eliminated.

No other issue will be more different for 6th District residents than how their views are represented on guns, with McBath having pushed for gun control measures like universal background checks, and the two Republicans now running to replace her against any new gun laws at all.

But with the Uvalde school shootings still fresh in voters’ minds, I spoke with both candidates, attorney Jake Evans and physician and former Marine, Rich McCormick, to see what, if anything, they think could prevent more mass shootings, especially the horror of violence in schools.

In our conversations, Evans and McCormick both described themselves as “pro-Second amendment.” And both focused on strengthening schools’ physical barriers and increasing the number of armed adults in schools as ways to protect kids from shooters. Both also said focusing on mental health treatment is important.

But when it came to the question of access to guns, one candidate, Evans said, “In my opinion, guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

He also talked about his belief that Americans should be able to be armed against the American government, just in case.

“If a government reaches a totalitarian state or a state where the government is going to attempt to oppress its people, like it does in China and like it does in Russia, then the citizens have to have an ability to defend themselves.”

When I asked if he was talking about the American government, he said yes.

“I am unapologetically pro-Second Amendment, unapologetically for not allowing our Second Amendment to be eroded,” he said. “But I am for hardening our schools.”

By “hardening” schools, he said he’d like to reduce the number of entrances to schools, let more “qualified personnel” carry guns on campuses, and possibly add more law enforcement officers.

What about recess? I asked, since the Georgia General Assembly recently mandated 30 minutes of recess in all public schools, and those recesses nearly always happen outside of locked doors.

“I mean, we need to make sure our schools are as safe as the stadiums that we have a lot of security measures for,” he said. “One way of doing that is ensuring that wherever the outside area is, it’s a secure area that is not going to be vulnerable to a shooter. And that’s tricky.”

Keeping weapons away from dangerously mentally people seems to be a place some Republicans in the U.S. Senate are willing to wade into, but Evans didn’t feel the same way.

“I’m a very strong constitutional rights guy. I’m a strong civil liberties person and I am very suspicious anytime we are eroding away those liberties,” he said.

While Evans sounded like the lawyer that he is, McCormick spoke from the experience of being an E.R. doctor who is still haunted by the details of every child who has died in his care.

“I’ll tell you I’m scarred, literally scarred, by every single child that dies in the ER,” he said.

The first was a 9-year-old boy who had accidentally been shot through the neck by his 12-year-old cousin and later died on his way to surgery.

“We naturally, as human beings, are designed to protect children,” he said. “And I don’t think anybody accepts that we need to just say it’s okay for children to be at risk.”

Like Evans, McCormick doesn’t want to see new “red flag” laws passed by Congress. Or any new gun laws at all. But he did talk about keeping guns away from “evil” people.

Having routinely seen people in mental health crises where he’s worked, he said that aggressively identifying people with dangerous mental health issues should be the focus of limits on gun access. He said he’s flagged multiple patients for that very reason.

“We need to be careful not to do a knee-jerk reaction that only disarms the people who would be the most likely people to protect the children,” he said. “We need to make sure that we do take the weapons out of evil people’s hands.”

Before Jake Evans gets an attack ad ready, McCormick never advocated for any new gun restrictions. In fact, he said he would oppose any of the ones I brought up.

But he also acknowledged the pain and disbelief parents in Georgia are going through, as they watch children being gunned down in other states and ask what, if anything, anyone in Georgia will do to keep it from happening here.

“Worried is not even a strong enough word. Some of us are just scared,” said Heather Kauffman, the Dunwoody mom. “I just want my daughter to be safe.”

The voters left in the Sixth District will have two Republicans to choose from in the June 21st runoff and a Democrat, Bob Christian, facing the winner in an uphill contest in November. But, by design, Lucy McBath won’t be representing Sixth District voters in Congress anymore.