AG Lynch: Opioid Drug Abuse 'Behind Upticks in Violence As Well As Violent Crime Using Guns'

By Susan Jones | March 9, 2016 | 11:33 AM EST

Attorney General Loretta Lynch testifies before Congress. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Attorney General Loretta Lynch told Congress on Wednesday that "one of the greatest hazards to both law enforcement and the people that we serve is an epidemic of gun violence."

She also said opioid drug abuse is linked to "upticks in violence as well as violent crime using guns."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked the attorney general, "Do you see a connection between the growing opioid crisis and illegal firearms trafficking?"

Lynch agreed that opioid abuse is a "crisis" and an "epidemic" that affects every state in the nation.

"When we look at not only the increase in firearms dealing and recent violence levels overall -- one of the things we did over the last calendar year was I directed U.S. attorneys to reach out to state and local counterparts...that had seen an increase in violence in general, not necessarily limited to firearms, but violent crime in general, to see if we could pinpoint the causes in these relevant jurisdictions.

"And in many jurisdictions, while the causes did vary, drug abuse -- particularly heroin, opioid, and methamphetamine abuse -- were behind upticks in violence as well as violent crime using guns. So there is a connection there, as individuals turn to crime to support habits, so we do see that."

Later in the hearing, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) asked Lynch, "Do you believe that mental illness plays a role in some of the incidents of mass gun violence that we've experience in America in the last few years?"

"Well, certainly I think with respect to specific cases where it's been adjudicated or a finding has been made, we can say that. Otherwise it would be speculation," Lynch replied.

"But I will say that I think, Senator, mental illness is the issue that I find is cutting across so many law enforcement issues today, both from how we police to how we look at violent crime to how we manage our prisons.

"And certainly, as it relates to how we manage firearms in this country -- you know, essentially making sure that we continue to have the right to have responsible firearms owners, and yet balancing that against those who are not allowed by law to have firearms because of an adjudication of mental illness of various types--"

"I couldn't agree  witih you more about the intersection of mental illness and law enforcement," Cornyn cut in.  

The senator then plugged his legislation, The Mental Health and Safe Communities Act, suggesting it's somethinghe and Lynch might work on together.