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Mark Kelly personally lobbied Rep. Steve Scalise on guns

Mark Kelly personally lobbied Rep. Steve Scalise on guns
© Greg Nash

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly late last month phoned House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) on his first day back at the Capitol.

Kelly said he and his wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), were both praying for the Louisiana congressman’s speedy recovery and were glad to hear he was back at work 15 weeks after a gunman opened fire at a Republican baseball practice.

Then, Kelly brought up some of the gun reform work that he and Giffords have dedicated their lives to ever since 2011, when a man shot Giffords through the head and murdered six people at a Tucson constituent event.

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“We talked about a few things,” Scalise said of the private phone call, not wanting to get into specific details of what was discussed. “He obviously has some things that he’s promoting, but it was a very cordial conversation.”

Even though Scalise and Giffords are members of a tragic and exclusive club — lawmakers who have survived mass shootings — Scalise has made clear he won’t be joining Giffords’s push for expanded background checks and other gun-control measures.

His conviction for the Second Amendment and gun rights is unwavering, he said.

A history buff, Scalise said America’s Founding Fathers “put it all on the line” and “risked their lives” to fight for independence from the British. Those same founders authored the Constitution and later added the Second Amendment after seeing “threats” to citizens’ right to bear firearms.

In an interview Wednesday with The Hill, Scalise said, “You have to fight for the things you believe in. In Congress, we fight with rhetoric, we try to persuade people, and as whip, you try to get the votes to pass legislation. If somebody disagrees with you, you try to persuade them. But if they can’t be persuaded the other way, you move on.”

“But if someone resorts to violence, you can’t let that change your views,” the House GOP’s chief vote counter added. “These are very deep-rooted beliefs I have.”

Scalise, 52, almost didn’t make it off the field the morning of June 14, when gunman James Hodgkinson began firing at GOP lawmakers practicing in Alexandria, Va., for a charity baseball game. As he fielded balls near second base, Scalise took a round in the hip, shattering his femur, damaging several organs and causing significant internal bleeding.

Today, after numerous surgeries and months of rehabilitation, Scalise gets around the Capitol in a motorized scooter decked out in purple and yellow, the colors of his alma mater Louisiana State University. Doctors say he will eventually walk again unassisted, but for now he can only go short distances with help from a pair of crutches.

A former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), Scalise recites a series of GOP talking points when pressed further on why Congress has ignored popular gun reforms despite a spate of deadly mass shootings in recent years. He boasts an A-plus rating from the powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association.

“If we really want to get to the root of these problems, it usually comes back to mental illness,” he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and the Democrats “want more gun control and, frankly, they want to take away the rights of a lot of law-abiding citizens,” Scalise added.

“Most gun crimes that were committed today involved guns that were stolen,” he argued.

Just three days after Scalise’s homecoming in the Capitol on Sept. 28, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, killing 58 people and injuring more than 500 others attending a country music festival in Las Vegas.

Some of the weapons Paddock had with him were equipped with “bump stock” devices, which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic illegal, fully automatic weapons. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including former RSC Chairman Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresTexas lawmaker: GOP facing funding disadvantage The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Trump, Pence fan out to protect the Rust Belt Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker MORE (R-Texas), immediately called for a ban on the devices. Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloDems see blue 'tsunami' in House as Senate path narrows GOP spokeswoman says Republicans will lose House seats in midterms Cook Political Report shifts 7 more races towards Dems MORE (R-Fla.) even teamed up with a Democrat, Rep. Seth Moulton (Mass.), to author legislation outlawing bump stocks and similar devices.

But Scalise argued that more gun laws won’t save more lives.

“If you’re trying to figure out how to stop something bad from happening, there’s no magic bill you can file to stop people from doing evil things, whether it’s with a bomb or a knife or whatever weapon they choose,” Scalise said.

“The best thing you can do is continue to be vigilant and enforce laws that are already on the books.”

Instead, Scalise echoed Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns MORE (R-Wis.) and urged the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to “revisit” their Obama-era decision that allowed the sale and possession of bump stocks.

“Right now, it’s in their hands,” he said of the Trump administration.

While congressional Republicans have no plans to take up gun reforms, the June shooting has taken an emotional toll on them, their families and their staffers. In addition to Scalise, a Hill staffer, lobbyist and the two members of Scalise’s security detail were wounded.

Scalise recently hosted members of the GOP baseball team in his office to talk about what they remember from that day and how they’ve been dealing with the trauma.

“It was real emotional because I got shot, but everybody had some experience of either being shot at or being in the dugout and hearing the shots,” Scalise said. “If my security detail is not successful at taking this guy out, he is going to walk right around and take every one of them out.

“There was a strong awareness of just how serious it could have been for everybody. There were a lot of tears.”