Republican members of Congress have been emboldened in their persistent calls for more relaxed gun restrictions since the shooting on a baseball field in Alexandria, Va.
The shooter, 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson, apparently opened fire Wednesday on GOP members of Congress practicing for the Congressional Baseball Game. The shooter wounded several, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). Hodgkinson was shot by Capitol Police and later died. But the horrors of the attack reverberated, and some Republicans reinforced their stance that law-abiding citizens should be able to defend themselves.
“From now on, I’ll be exercising my Second Amendment right to carry a firearm as I travel my district,” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) wrote Monday in The Washington Post.
“As Americans in my district and across the country know well, responsible, legal gun owners have every right to protect themselves, and that applies to members of Congress as well,” wrote Collins, who told Congress in 2013 he would not allow gun crimes to be “used as a pretense to weaken our constitutional rights.” On Monday, the congressman added that, “Now, more than ever, I truly believe that the best place to be, during a terrible episode like the one in Alexandria, is next to a good guy with a gun. The good guys this time were the officers who likely prevented a massacre.”
Republican Congress members’ recent call to arms illustrates how the GOP has slid to the right, particularly over Second Amendment issues, experts say.
chair of the political science department at the State University of New York at Cortland, said that there was a time when Republicans were more divided on gun laws but that “the party has shifted to the right and there are very few Republicans now — certainly in an elected office at the national level — who don’t adhere to the NRA line, for lack of a better way of putting it.” Those in the House who don’t hold that view, he said, are “simply silent on the issue.”
He said President Trump illustrated that change — swapping pro-gun-control views for a pro-gun-rights stance before he started campaigning in 2015.
“The NRA became really the first significant national interest group to endorse him,” Spitzer said. “He now is very much in lockstep with the NRA agenda, and that kind of typifies what’s happened at the national level with Republican officeholders.”
Spitzer, a political scientist who has written several books on Second Amendment issues, said the gun issue has become a litmus test to demonstrate “conservative credentials.”
Following Wednesday’s tragic shooting, Republican Congress members emphasized the argument that more responsible citizens with guns could mean a greater chance for survival.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) told Fox News the shooter “would’ve had a tremendous advantage if we didn’t have someone returning fire.”
Rep. Charles J. “Chuck” Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) told Rolling Stone, “What we need to do is focus on keeping Americans safe. But I am, and will always be, a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. Put it this way: If we had had more weapons there, we’d be able to subdue the shooter more quickly.”
The day after the incident, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) proposed a bill, the D.C. Personal Protection Reciprocity Act., which would allow people with a concealed-carry permit in their home states to carry in the District — not just for members of Congress, but for citizens, as well. The District does consider applications for Concealed Carry Pistol Licenses, but applicants have to provide a “good reason.”
“After the horrific shooting at the Republican congressional Baseball practice, there will likely be calls for special privileges to protect politicians,” he said in a statement. “Our reaction should instead be to protect the right of all citizens guaranteed in the Constitution: the right to self-defense. I do not want to extend a special privilege to politicians, because the right to keep and bear arms is not a privilege, it is a God-given right protected by our Constitution.”
Last year, Massie and other U.S. representatives launched a caucus to pass “meaningful firearms legislation and protect Americans against infringements of the Second Amendment.”
And Brad Carver, the Republican Party chairman in Georgia’s 11th congressional district, said he believes the recent shooting “is going to win this election for us. Because moderates and independents in this district are tired of left-wing extremism.” He was referring to the special election between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel in the neighboring 6th District.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told reporters that each constitutional right has “adverse aspects” and “what we just saw here is one of the bad side effects of someone not exercising those rights properly.”
“We’re not going to get rid of freedom of speech because some people say some really ugly things and hurt other people’s feelings. We’re not going to get rid of the Fourth Amendment search-and-seizure rights because it allows some criminals to go free who should be behind bars,” he said, according to Fox News. “These rights are there to protect Americans, and while each of them has a negative aspect to them, they’re fundamental to our being the greatest nation in world history.”
Some have made that point that had Scalise left the field Wednesday, his security detail — lauded as heroes for taking down the shooter — would have gone with him. In situations like that, the lawmakers argue, it is imperative to have personal protection.