DES MOINES — An eastern Iowa family has been invited to testify at a congressional hearing on the role of mental illness in gun violence.

Members of the late Ed Thomas’ family have been invited to testify at a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing, possibly late next week, 1st District U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley said Friday. The hearing is being called to address how the breakdown in mental-health services contributes to gun violence.

Thomas, who coached the Aplington-Parkersburg football team, was shot to death in June 2009 by a former student with a history of mental illness. That student, Mark Becker, had been released from a Waterloo hospital after a psychiatric evaluation days before the shooting.

Responding to a question about federal gun control legislation during taping of Iowa Public Television’s "Iowa Press" on Friday, Braley said those discussions too often ignore the role of mental illness in gun violence.

“What we're really talking about is how we reduce gun violence in this country,” Braley said. “When I think about how we do that, I think of families like Ed Thomas’ family in Parkersburg, which dealt with the reality of some of the gun violence issues we have.”

Reducing gun violence, he continued, involves keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.

“But it also deals with the breakdown in our mental-health system in this country,” Braley said.

He has invited members of the Thomas family to testify in hopes of starting a national conversation about the role of mental health in reducing gun violence.

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“They have an important story to share,” he said, because the gun control debate should be part of a “broader comprehensive conversation about all the factors that are leading to increased violence.”

The committee, chaired by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pennsylvania, is working on inviting witnesses — families of those with mental illness, caregivers and doctors — to talk about mental health and violence, according to Braley’s staff.

The hearing has not been formally announced and the Thomas family has not confirmed it will participate, Braley’s office said Friday afternoon.

Iowa Press will air again at noon Sunday on IPTV and 8:30 a.m. today on IPTV World. It also will be available at www.iptv.org.