Mary Harrell tightened her fist around the microphone. Harrell, a retired teacher and clinical psychologist, cleared her throat and smiled at U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham. A crowd of more than 100 Sun City Carolina Lakes residents sat in lawn chairs under an outdoor terrace Tuesday and waited for Harrell’s question.
“I have recently heard President Trump focus on the mentally ill as a reason for mass shootings,” Harrell said. “The mentally ill are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.”
A woman in the crowd whispered under her breath: “Sometimes.”
“Mentally ill people live in all developed countries,” Harrell said. “But those countries don’t have a mass shooting problem.”
“Yes they do.”
“Hate is not a mental illness. It’s a toxic attitude. What will you do to get weapons of war off the streets? To legislate and fund effective background checks? And to bring red flag laws to the mass shooting epidemic that’s terrifying our children and our grandchildren?”
The crowd cheered.
The woman in the crowd leaned to a woman beside her. “She’s a Democrat,” the woman said.
Graham, who visited Spartanburg, Indian Land and Rock Hill during the day, said he favors enforcing background checks and “red flag” legislation, which, as he explains it, would allow law enforcement or family members to petition a court to take guns away from a person who may present a danger.
“How many of you own a gun?” Graham asked the crowd.
About half of the group raised their hands.
“How many of you believe if you gave your gun up it would be a better world?” Graham said.
The crowd screamed “No!”
“I want you to responsibly own a gun,” Graham said. “Ma’am it’s not the gun. It’s the person with it. I own an AR-15. Am I the only guy here who owns an AR-15?”
Graham asked a crowd of more than 300 York County Republican Party members the same question later that day in Rock Hill.
“How many of y’all own a gun?”
Almost the entire crowd raised their hands. The crowd laughed.
“Does anybody own an AR-15?” Graham said. A couple hands shot up. “Me too!”
“Here’s the problem,” he said. “There’s some people out there who need help. There’s some people out there who are mean and hateful that need to be dealt with before it’s too late.”
Graham, who proposed legislation to encourage more states to adopt “red flag” laws after a pair of mass shootings in early August, said the proposal would create a federal grant program to help states hire mental health professionals that can assist law enforcement in identifying whether a person is a danger.
“If we don’t do that, folks, there’s going to be more and more of this,” Graham said. “There is no magic answer to this. This is a cultural problem.”
Changing immigration law
“Name one person that’s done more to try to fix a broken immigration system than I have,” Graham said.
Graham, whose immigration bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, told The Herald, the current immigration system is “completely broken” and the influx of migrants who come to the U.S. are abusing the asylum-seeking process.
“If you get one foot on U.S. soil and ask for asylum, you’re entitled to a hearing,” Graham said. “The hearing is three years from now, if you’re lucky. We let you go and nobody shows up. Anybody dumb enough to show up should be deported. Until you change the law about asylum, they will keep coming.”
Graham said those seeking asylum from Central America need to apply for asylum before coming to the U.S.
Graham’s legislation would require those seeking asylum to fill out applications at refugee processing centers, which would be established in Central America and Mexico.
His proposal would also hold families together for 100 days while making asylum claims in the U.S. rather than the currently required 20 days. The bill would also add 500 new immigration judges to reduce the backlog of cases.
“Here’s the deal — if you’re not a bad hombre,” he said. “If you’re not a crook. Come out of the shadows. Raise your hands. Pay a fine because you did break the law. Learn the language if you’re going to stay. And get in the back of the line. That makes sense.”
A booming economy
Graham praised Trump for his tough stance in the escalating conflict with China. And he said as a result of the trade war, the Chinese economy has declined, which has led to a global economic slowdown.
But Graham said he’s not worried the global disruption could trigger a possible U.S. recession, which economists say could be a possibility.
“You can’t fight China and expect everything to stay the same,” Graham told The Herald. “We’re going to experience some pain. They play by a different set of rules and the tariffs are trying to get them to change their behavior. You pay now or you pay later with China.”
And to help his home state’s economy, Graham said he hopes to introduce an infrastructure bill to improve South Carolina roads and bridges.
“A big infrastructure package will do the country a big service,” he said. “It will help the economy. It will help our depleting infrastructure.”