Mitt Romney said Friday that the nation must act swiftly to address the scourge of gun violence, stating that he was open to tougher measures like "enhanced background checks" if they would help keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
"What happened is unthinkable and unimaginable," he said after offering prayers for the victims of the Florida shooting. "We must take action to prevent tragedies like this from happening again."
Speaking at a fundraising dinner held by Utah County Republicans in his first official appearance as a U.S. Senate candidate, Romney said he hoped to see the state generate innovative solutions for stopping school shootings, rather than the federal government.
Romney did not endorse any one legislative solution, noting that none of the federal legislation that he's read would have prevented the tragedy. One possible exception, he said, is the legislation that retiring Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has proposed for enhanced background checks before gun purchases.
Speaking to reporters after the event, however, Romney said he had not yet studied that legislation -- and would hold off from endorsing it until he'd had a chance to do so.
The former Massachusetts governor, who is running to replace Hatch, said he believed states like Utah should investigate ideas like school building security measures, police and volunteer patrols, and the creation of "intervention teams" that would go into schools when a student demonstrates disturbing or violent behavior.
Romney said state legislatures should also consider "age or psychological restrictions on gun purchases."
"We can't just sit and wait and hope and expect things are going to get better," he said.
In keeping with the low-key tone of his video announcement on Friday, Romney did not deliver formal remarks to members of the Utah County Republican Party. Instead, he opted to read and answer questions that had been submitted by the audience.
When he outlined the issues he would tackle in Washington, he clicked through a slide presentation that he had prepared as he discussed job growth, the national debt and curbing carbon emissions.
The 2012 Republican presidential nominee was relaxed and self-effacing, joking about his past campaigns and the fact that he would have no seniority in Washington.
"I want to dispel the rumor that I only ran for President as a stepping stone to become the senator from Utah," he quipped as a he warmed up the crowd.
Later, he said he would have no problem serving as Utah's junior senator: "At my age, being called junior is a compliment."
After speaking with reporters at the end of the night, Romney -- who once traveled in a fleet of SUVs with a full Secret Service detail -- stepped into his pickup truck and drove off alone.
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