Presidential hopeful Ben Carson discusses gun control before Chattanooga visit

Ben Carson announces his candidacy for president during an official announcement in Detroit, Monday, May 4, 2015. Carson, 63, a retired neurosurgeon, begins the Republican primary as an underdog in a campaign expected to feature several seasoned politicians. (Photo/Paul Sancya)

Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who is a leading Republican presidential contender, said situations like the July 16 shootings by a lone gunman that killed five military service members in Chattanooga could be prevented by arming officers at recruiting stations.

"I can't think of any good reason why we should disarm them," Carson said Thursday in a phone interview. "These mentally unstable people know where they're going. They're not going to a place where a bunch of people with guns are going to shoot them."

The presidential hopeful will be at Barnes & Noble in Chattanooga Sunday afternoon for a book signing. He spoke to the Times Free Press about a number of things Thursday, including Russia's intervention in the Middle East, how to address gun violence in America and the importance of Second Amendment rights amid last week's Oregon college campus massacre.

"I think it's certainly a topic that we should be discussing," Carson said of gun control. "I'm looking for ways to prevent these kinds of incidents without compromising the Second Amendment."

Asked what he would do to combat the gun-violence problem the Rev. Jesse Jackson discussed in Chattanooga earlier this week, Carson spoke to the wider issue of mass shootings in the United States.

"I would be studying the people who are involved and trying to glean information so that we can identify them early and intervene," he said.

Carson added that mental health experts need the power to institutionalize potentially dangerous people: "In many of these cases, they have been under therapy, and yet they still have committed these crimes."

In issues abroad, Carson said, Russian intervention in Syria boils down to capturing oil fields.

"We need to oppose him in every way that we can," Carson said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. "And particularly oppose him in gaining control of energy resources in the Middle East."

photo Police search students outside Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, following a deadly shooting at the southwestern Oregon community college. (Mike Sullivan/Roseburg News-Review via AP)

Carson's thoughts followed on the heels of a nationwide rebuke after he ignited controversy with his comments about the Oregon campus shooting.

"I would not just stand there and let him shoot me," Carson told Fox News about how he might have responded during the attack in Roseburg, Ore., where a lone shooter with a history of mental health struggles killed 10 and injured seven.

On the phone Thursday, Carson stood by his remarks.

"There's nothing that I've said that doesn't make sense," he contended.

Echoing the nationwide backlash, local critics said Carson's comments were not only insensitive, they signaled a lack of experience in the political arena.

"It's one thing to want to be like John Wayne and take the gun away and knock the person out and save the day," said Terry Lee, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party. "It's another thing when you're in the situation. It just shows a lack of sensitivity, a lack of thought process and lack of real-life experience."

Robin Smith, the former Tennessee Republican Party chairwoman, said Carson's unique skill set and his ability to function under pressure could appeal to the state's electorate. But where the outsider may find pressure, she said, is policy.

"I think pretty soon," Smith said, "he's going to have to start specifying what his true plans are."

Carson will be at Barnes and Noble at Hamilton Place mall starting at 3:30 p.m. He will be signing his book, "A More Perfect Union."

Contact Zack Peterson at 423-757-6347 or zpeterson@timesfreepress.com with story ideas or tips. Follow @zackpeterson918.