The Sunday morning comment sparked immediate questions about whether a conservative Republican's position on gun-control issues had subtly changed in the 48 hours since 20 Connecticut children and six adults were killed with weapons that included two semiautomatic pistols and a military-style .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle.
"I think we should absolutely talk about the intersection of a lethal weapon and how it relates to mental health," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a gun-rights advocate said earlier Sunday in Newtown, Conn., during an appearance on ABC's "This Week."
But by the early afternoon, in a reflection of the hurdles facing gun-control proponents, Chaffetz made clear in an interview with the Washington Post that he opposes any new federal legislation to restrict gun ownership, bar particular weapons or place new limits on rounds of ammunition people are allowed to purchase. Any effort to evaluate or monitor the mental health of prospective gun owners, he said, is a matter "best meant not the federal government but for families, churches and schools."
Chaffetz had undergone a swirl of emotions over the weekend. The politics of gun control, he acknowledged, were altogether divorced from his reaction as the first reports of the mass killings reached him on Friday.
"I wept," the father of three said. "I said a prayer."
His arrival in leafy Newtown, amid the chilling juxtaposition of idyllic and horrific, jarred him even more. "It's so quaint, you just can't imagine," he said, his voice trailing off. But, aside from wanting more attention paid to issues related to mental health, he can't envision that the horror will change him at all politically.
"I'm in exactly the same place on the issue as I was before," he said, adding that he sees no new support among any Republicans for gun-control legislation.
A proud holder of a Utah conceal-carry gun permit that enables him in many states to walk around with his Glock 23 under his jacket, Chaffetz noted that he had actually undergone a slight attitudinal change about his weapon since Friday. "I gotta tell you: I feel more comfortable having a gun and owning a gun that I did prior to this happening," he said. "When evil like this strikes, I want to be able to fire back. And I'm really glad I have a gun in the safe of my house... And I think my kids are glad, too. They know Dad can fire back."
Listening to an array of Democratic-advanced ideas for new regulations, Chaffetz responded that the guns used in the Newtown killings were obtained legally. He voiced skepticism that limits on such things as ammo clips "would do much to prevent the evil -- you just put in a new clip in a matter of seconds. If somebody is hell bent on evil, they're probably going to be able to do it, unfortunately.... I want to be able to protect myself and fire back if that happens."
Since Friday, he says he has been asking himself what can be done.
"I keep coming back to mental health issues," he said. "I don't know that we're identifying those issues with people soon enough. And you have younger people dealing with movies and video games that make it harder and harder for them to distinguish [fantasy] from reality. There's nothing in a rating system that raises red flags about that. I want us to look at mental health as people, but I just don't want the federal government involved in any of this... I hope the other side sees that. There are no easy answers here."