The gunman’s bullet that struck Representative Steve Scalise at a congressional baseball practice last month entered at his left hip, smashing bone and tearing into internal organs as it ripped through his body.
At the hospital, doctors stopped the internal bleeding. At the White House, President Trump called for unity. And at the Capitol, congressional leaders offered the prayers of a nation. But then, Scalise’s Republican colleagues did something truly craven: They used the shooting to rally support for less restrictive gun laws.
That’s right, less restrictive gun laws.
It’s bad enough that lawmakers failed to pass widely supported common-sense gun control measures after mass shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and a nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
In the weeks since the Scalise shooting, House Republicans have introduced three bills that would allow lawmakers to carry concealed weapons at nearly all times — as if tossing guns into Washington’s toxic stew would make lawmakers safer.
They’ve also added cosponsors — 200 of them, now — for The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would require each state to honor concealed carry permits issued in other states. The effect: Permits obtained in the least restrictive states, like Mississippi, would suddenly be valid in the most restrictive states, like Massachusetts.
If that wasn’t enough, Senate Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Mike Crapo of Idaho filed legislation that would wipe out decades-old federal restrictions on silencers.
Silencers, supporters say, protect the hearing of sportsmen. But they don’t actually silence guns, all those James Bond movies notwithstanding. They only muffle them. And the National Hearing Conservation Association recently declared that silencers provide inadequate protection against hearing loss — recommending ear plugs or other protection even when silencers are in use.
Lifting the restrictions on sales, says Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Cortland and author of five books on gun policy, is really about boosting the fortunes of the gun industry.
“A lot of money is made in the gun industry from accessories,” he says. “This is especially true of the popular AR-15-like weapons — assault-type weapons — which are sometimes referred to as ‘Barbie dolls for men.’ ”
The sound of gunfire, Spitzer says, is actually an important safety feature. Joggers running in the woods or pedestrians walking city streets should be able to hear gunshots clearly so they can avoid danger.
Advocates are quick to point out that silencers are rarely used in the commission of crimes. But David Chipman, senior policy adviser with Americans for Responsible Solutions and a former employee of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, says that’s a testament to the strength of the existing law, which requires an extensive background check, registration, and payment of a $200 tax.
“I would argue,” he says, “that it’s a gun violence prevention law that actually works.” Congress risks endangering the most basic precepts of public safety if this longstanding, and rational, regulation is rolled back.
Expanding concealed carry, Chipman says, has some visceral appeal after an incident like the Scalise shooting. But adding amateurs with guns to high-stress situations carries enormous risk: Civilians can be mistaken for shooters, bystanders can be struck.
If members of Congress are worried about their safety, they should invest in more professional security — like the US Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman at the baseball practice — not ratchet up our gun culture.
Brutal mass shootings occur year after year, taking an unconscionable toll. Yet congressional Republicans continue to block action on gun control, through either misguided fealty to NRA lobbyists or a deliberately bellicose interpretation of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution — or both. Lawmakers shocked by the brazen carnage on the baseball diamond in Virginia last month should be looking for ways to further restrict access to guns and their lethal accessories, rather than swearing a blood oath and proposing legislation more suited to the Wild West.