Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns
Democrat Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.) and Republican Steve Scalise (La.) share a tragic, common bond: Both were nearly killed in separate mass shootings six years apart.
But the two former House colleagues had very different reactions to Sunday night’s massacre on the Las Vegas Strip, where a lone gunman killed at least 59 people and injured more than 520 others.
Giffords and her astronaut husband Mark Kelly stormed Capitol Hill on Monday, urging political leaders to enact tougher gun control laws. Scalise, just four days after his emotional return to the Capitol, called on Americans to donate blood and be kind to one another.
The Louisiana Republican echoed President Trump in calling the shootings “an act of pure evil.” But Scalise, the third-ranking Republican in leadership, made no mention of stricter gun laws, nor did any of his GOP colleagues in Congress.
“In this tragic moment, I encourage people across America to stand together in solidarity, and to support the Las Vegas community and all of those affected, especially by giving blood and encouraging others to do the same,” Scalise said. “In the face of unspeakable evil, our whole nation must respond with countless acts of kindness, warmth and generosity.”
A spokesman for Scalise had no comment when asked if the majority whip’s views have changed on gun control measures after he was shot.
The starkly different responses from Scalise and Giffords offer a snapshot of the broader gun debate on Capitol Hill — and help to explain why reform legislation has languished for years even in the face of tens of thousands of annual shooting deaths across the country.
Even though both political parties have seen gun violence cut down members of their own conferences, their reactions to Las Vegas show Democrats and Republicans are no closer to finding common ground on the issue of gun control. Indeed, some lawmakers quickly predicted, to little surprise from observers, that even the nation’s deadliest mass shooting won’t sway the deeply entrenched partisan sentiments that have governed the gun debate for decades.
“The left will ask for too much and the right will view anything as capitulation,” said one House GOP lawmaker who backs stronger background checks for gun buyers.
Kelly said Monday that the offering of only “thoughts and prayers” is tantamount to complicity, framing gun violence as a preventable public-health scourge and lambasting reform opponents as moral cowards.
“Action to save lives is the only acceptable moral course for our country,” said Kelly, who along with his wife has devoted his life to reining in gun violence. “Without action, we are asking one person to be the next person to die because of our weakness to address this evil. And then another. And then another. And then another.”
At the top of the Democrats’ legislative wish list is a proposal requiring private gun sellers to screen potential buyers through an FBI database designed to weed out felons, domestic abusers, undocumented immigrants, those with severe mental illness and other categories of prohibited buyers. Under current federal law, only licensed gun dealers are required to conduct those screenings.
Congress last considered that concept in 2013, just months after 20 first-graders and six teachers were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the proposal was defeated on the Senate floor after winning 55 supporters — five shy of the number needed to defeat a GOP filibuster.
In addition to Toomey, Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois also backed the bill. Kirk lost his seat in 2016.
Democrats have also pushed to ban military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines while empowering the federal government to research gun violence as a public health issue.
But Republicans, who control the House and Senate, have shown no appetite for tougher gun laws. In fact, in recent weeks, Republicans have been pushing to loosen such laws.
A bill making it easier for people to buy gun suppressors, often described as silencers, was delayed in mid-June after a gunman shot at Republican lawmakers practicing baseball in Alexandria, Va. Scalise, a Capitol Police officer, a Hill staffer and a lobbyist were all struck by the gunman.
That bill, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, authored by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), eventually passed out of the Natural Resources Committee last month, paving the way for a vote on the House floor.
But Friday, a day after Scalise received a hero’s welcome in the Capitol, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) released this week’s vote schedule that excluded the SHARE Act.
In addition to the suppressor legislation, House Republicans also hope to vote this fall on a bill that would allow gun owners with concealed-carry permits to carry their firearms in other states.
For most Hill Republicans, bucking the National Rifle Association (NRA) is unfathomable. The powerful gun lobby spent more than $52 million backing candidates in the 2016 cycle, $30 million on Trump alone. And sponsoring gun control measures could result in the NRA recruiting primary challengers against incumbent Republicans.
Still, a handful of Republicans in favor of reform appeared open Monday to congressional action, though they say they want more information about the Las Vegas shooting and the conditions of those wounded before they play their hand.
“This information is critical in determining the next steps needed to try and prevent future tragedies,” Toomey said in a statement. “My staff and I will continue to monitor all of these developments.”
On Thursday, the day Scalise made his first trip to the Capitol since he was shot 15 weeks earlier, Giffords tweeted out praise for the majority whip: “@SteveScalise has a strength only survivors know. Welcome back to the people’s House. Your courage & resilience sends a powerful message.”
“Thank you, Gabby,” Scalise tweeted back. “I am so grateful for the support you and Mark have shown my family and me.”
But the tweets never touched on gun reform. And Giffords, though she struggles to speak since the attack, delivered a clear, six-word message to Congress on Monday.
“The nation is counting on you,” Giffords said as she turned and pointed toward the Capitol.
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