SALT LAKE CITY — Vowing to be a "constructive voice," Sen. Mitt Romney called for government action and legislation in the wake of "senseless" mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio in the past week.
In addition, the Utah Republican called for a greater commitment to racial equality.
Romney said many of his colleagues have various proposals that touch on different aspects of the gun debate.
"These issues involve constitutional rights and deeply held beliefs, but that is not an excuse to shy away from a serious, fact-based, and thorough national discussion which will potentially lead to remedial legislation," he said in a statement.
"This will require courage and a willingness from all sides to find areas of consensus, instead of retreating to partisan corners," Romney said. "I am determined to be a constructive voice in that endeavor."
The recent tragedies demand "thoughtful, considered" action from local, state and federal leaders, as well as ordinary citizens, he said.
"Too often, once the initial headlines of a tragedy fade, the national conversation moves on without giving these issues the full attention they merit," Romney, R-Utah, said.
After several school shootings last year, Romney said states — not the federal government — should establish gun laws and school safety measures. He said he did not support new federal gun control legislation, except banning the sale of bump stocks and an updated background check system.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said he is and will remain a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. "But like all Americans, I was heartbroken and I was angry over the evil we saw displayed over the weekend," he said in a video posted on Twitter.
Stewart said for two years he has backed legislation that would take weapons out of the hands of those who are mentally incompetent.
"It's one of the things we actually have to focus on now," he said.
The country, Stewart said, is too steeped in violence in movies, TV and video games, and people don't honor the sanctity of life as they have in the past. He said it's fair to ask whether society has surrounded itself with too much violence.
President Donald Trump tweeted Monday that "Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform."
Speaking from the White House later Monday, the president called for reforms to mental health laws and criticized violent video games, saying he had also asked the FBI to identify resources needed to disrupt domestic terrorism.
Trump did not repeat his call for stronger background checks, as he had tweeted earlier Monday.
"Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun," Trump said in the televised speech. "I am open and ready to listen and discuss all ideas that will actually work and make a very big difference."
Trump later tweeted that he's directing the Department of Justice to propose legislation "ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the DEATH PENALTY — and that this capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively, and without years of needless delay."
The House passed sweeping gun control legislation earlier this year, including expanding background checks for gun purchases and funds for gun violence research, but the Senate has yet to take it up.
The Alliance for a Better Utah and the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah applauded Romney's willingness to be a constructive voice, but urged him and GOP Sen. Mike Lee to demand that the Senate vote on the House bill and other gun reform measures, including reinstating a ban on assault weapons.
"Enough is enough," said Chase Thomas, Better Utah executive director.
Nancy Halden, with the gun violence prevention center, said politicians are quick to blame mental illness and video games, but mental illness rates are the same in other countries that are not experiencing as many mass shootings as the U.S.
"The critical difference is easy access to and lethality of weapons that are being used in our mass shootings," she said. "If our senators continue to do nothing in deference to the gun lobby, mass shootings will continue. It's that simple."
Halden said military-style assault weapons should not be on the streets.
"They're weapons of war," she said. "I hear from gun owners that they’re fun to shoot. Is that OK?"
Lee's office did not respond to a request for comment about the shootings Monday.
Romney said that in addition to policy solutions, people must vocally reassert a commitment to the principle of racial equality.
"Vile acts and words of white supremacy have once again torn at the heart of the American spirit. This cannot be met with silence from leaders of any kind," he said.
"In our homes, churches, businesses and public places, we must testify that every person, regardless of race, religion, gender, national origin and orientation is equal in the eyes of our creator.”
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, who has co-sponsored red flag legislation, said there are no easy answers to gun violence, but there are many areas of common ground.
"We should all feel emboldened to condemn extremism within our own borders, to call out hate, and to take on the insidious influence of white supremacy with the same fervor we attack all other forms of terrorism," he said.
Congress has taken meaningful steps to strengthen the national background check system and give our local communities, particularly Utah, the resources to address violence in the school system, Curtis said.
"More progress is clearly needed, but this consensus has been an important start," he said.
Utah's only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, tweeted, "We must unite as a country and work together right now to find solutions to combat domestic terrorism. We can start by denouncing white nationalism."
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said now is a time for prayer. He also praised the first responders who "fought evil with bravery" and condemned those who exploit the tragedies for political gain.
"Laws are useless without a profound change of heart. We must show forth a greater respect for one another. We must strengthen our families and we must hold a higher veneration for the sanctity of human life," he said.
Mormon Women for Ethical Government in a statement Monday said the El Paso shooter's manifesto echoed "prejudicial rhetoric coming from our highest leaders." The group said silence or hollow calls for "counterfeit unity and selective civility" represent "cruel complacency."
"It is not enough for our political leaders to denounce the fire they lit. They must now actively and remorsefully work with the full weight of their offices to douse this flame," according to the group.
Mohamed Jama, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake, issued a statement Monday night saying that, "peace-loving citizens of this country," the group was deeply saddened by the tragedies.
"As we look for answers behind these tragedies, let us not be confused. While gun control policies and mental health issues play a large part, it’s the widespread acceptance of intolerance towards our fellow human beings — both within and across our borders — that forms the root cause of the abyss we find ourselves staring down today," Jama said.
Jama went on to call for "an open and honest dialogue above the political divisions, not because of moral or ethical reasons, but because our survival as a nation hangs in the balance."
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert ordered flags in the state be flown at half-staff.
"Our hearts are heavy as we reflect on the hateful and cruel violence that rocked our nation this weekend," he said in a statement. "As Utahns, we grieve with all those who have lost loved ones in these senseless and vile shootings, and we pray for the recovery of the wounded.”