ASHLAND -- Gun laws, immigration and congressional gridlock were the key topics on the minds of constituents at a town hall meeting with United States Representative Bob Gibbs.
Monday's town hall drew approximately 40 people to Ashland University's Dauch College of Business, where the 7th Congressional District representative opened the session by speaking about a booming economy in the United States. He cited national increases in employee compensation, gross domestic product and job creation as well as downward unemployment trends in every county in his district.
Gibbs also showed charts depicting how a growing percentage of federal spending is mandatory spending for programs like social security and medicare rather than discretionary spending that the legislature can allocate. Gibbs said he believes that trend needs to be reversed.
Following his opening remarks, Gibbs spent about an hour and 15 minutes fielding audience questions. Each meeting attendee was given a ticket upon arrival at the event, and Gibbs drew ticket numbers to select question askers.
In light of recent mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, the first few questions centered on the role of government in reducing and preventing gun violence.
"It's time to do something," question asker Steve Smith of West Salem said. "Too many people are just dying."
Gibbs responded by saying he believes the common denominator in most mass shooting attacks is that the perpetrators are young males with histories of childhood trauma as well as signs of mental health issues.
Gibbs expressed conditional support for Ohio Governor Mike DeWine's proposal to implement a a "red flag" law in the state but said he has told Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof he should push for a provision to penalize people who make false accusations.
"I do not support taking firearms from law-abiding citizens, but we definitely don't want firearms in the hands of people that are not stable or have terrible agendas," Gibbs said.
Asked specifically about how he would vote on bills that would increase background checks, implement red flag laws, ban high capacity magazines and outlaw assault weapons, Gibbs said he prefers not to answer hypothetical questions about bills that are not on the table because he does not know exactly what would be in those bills.
He did defend AR-15s, saying the weapons are "not that much different than a rifle or a shotgun for that matter."
One question-asker asked Gibbs to propose his best solution for the problems at country's southern border.
Gibbs said he supports the creation of a physical barrier. He elaborated by saying the barrier should not be just a wall but rather a "21st Century barrier" that uses the latest technology to detect people trying to come into the country illegally.
In addition to the barrier, Gibbs said the country needs to fix its asylum laws.
"We need to send a strong message to countries around the world that we're not a magnet that attracts people here because we're offering free healthcare and free everything," Gibbs said.
Gibbs also called for reforming visa laws, eliminating chain migration and ending lotteries as a means of determining which immigrants can enter the country.
Later in the town hall, Gibbs revisited immigration, saying he believes there are several good laws already on the books that need to be better enforced.
Jennifer Miller of Ashland said it seems Congress is accomplishing less and less each year and that party politics have made it impossible to get anything done in Washington.
"A lot of what I'm seeing is finger-pointing and blame and a real lack of accountability ... What actions can you and your colleagues take to create a more collaborative environment where you're actually working together to create solutions to issues real Americans face? Are you are our congressman willing to take a leadership role in making that happen?"
In response, Gibbs outlined the House Democrats' list of top priorities and explaining why he did not support Democratic proposals.
Miller grew frustrated and rephrased her question several times, asking Gibbs what actions could be taken to stop the gridlock and work across the aisle.
Gibbs cited a recent bipartisan border security bill as an example of intraparty cooperation. He then blamed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for not taking up the bill.
Gibbs admitted he is frustrated that Congress has not been able to accomplish more on issues like immigration, healthcare and infrastructure but said he believes most of the house committees are focused on investigations and possible impeachment plans.