GOP Senate candidate calls NRA "great organization," says "we can't legislate morality"

Senate candidate Kelli Ward interview

Dr. Kelli Ward, who is running as a Republican to replace retiring Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake's seat, said Thursday "we can't legislate morality" and urged communities to find ways to better "connect" after a deadly shooting at a Parkland, Florida, school. Ward spoke to CBSN's Elaine Quijano on "Red & Blue" from CPAC one week after that shooting resulted in 17 deaths. 

"More importantly than talking about new gun laws, I think we have to be discussing the mental health issues leading to these horrific events," Ward said of Nikolas Cruz, the suspected gunman who opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. "It was just heartbreaking to see the families of these children who were killed unnecessarily and too soon ... the kids' faces that were in those places, wondering if it could have been them," she added. "Even the face of the shooter who had a terrible childhood and nothing was done to help him."

Kelli Ward CBS News

"If people want to commit mayhem they will find a way to do that. As a society we need to see how we reconnect with our neighbors ... how we connect our children with each other so we aren't in this situation," Ward said. "As we become more connected through social media, we've become less connected one-on-one."

When Quijano asked if there needs to be more mental health screening, Ward pointed to the importance of providing more facilities to take care of those with mental health issues saying "it's very difficult to find places for them to go so that they can get the help they so desperately need."

Ward also chimed in on the head of the National Rifle Association (NRA), Wayne LaPierre, and his speech at CPAC earlier Thursday.

NRA's Wayne LaPierre delivers remarks at CPAC - Part 1

"I think he had a very powerful speech how the NRA promotes responsible gun ownership for years and years and years," Ward said.

At a CNN town hall event Wednesday, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student asked Florida Sen. Marco Rubio if he would refuse to accept any donations from the NRA. Quijano asked if lawmakers could still protect the Second Amendment and not accept money from the NRA, and Ward said "I think they can but I don't think that's necessary."

"I think the NRA is a great organization that promotes law-abiding gun ownership, that promotes safety with firearms and that has for decades been asking that the already-instant background system be updated to include people with issues and people who cannot easily get their hands on firearms ... People who are committing these acts [shootings] are not law-abiding NRA members. They are people who significant mental health issues and we need to get to the bottom of that."

President Trump recently has floated the idea of arming educators and Ward said "I think if teachers were willing to be armed, that's something to be considered."

Ward asked her own child when she was in high school if it was a good idea to have someone armed on campus: "Her response was 'if we just have one person armed on campus, mom, the campus is too big and it will be too late.' So we need more people -- good guys with guns -- to combat a potentional bad guy with a gun." 

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has called Ward "the only true conservative running for Senate." Ward and Quijano also discussed immigration and the federal deficit. 

What it's like for one teacher who already carries a gun

To see more of Ward's interview, including her discussion about the fate of DACA and so-called Dreamers, click the video at the top of this page.