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February 13, 2019

The State of Gun Politics in the U.S. House

By Larry Keane

The Democrats in control of the U.S. House of Representatives are moving quickly on a gun control bill, H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. Predictably, they argue that this “common sense” legislation is long overdue. They’ll tell you that it must be passed for the safety of our children and that it is a moral imperative.

During what can only be described as a real piece of political theater in the form of a hearing last week, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nader (D-N.Y.) refused to allow Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) the opportunity to testify in opposition to the proposed legislation and, in so doing, provide some balance to the proceedings. The committee members, however, did yield considerable time to Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) to allow her to speak of her son’s murder.

From Being Hero to Being Censored

Sitting on the committee were many of the same House members who, like most Americans, were shocked when a would-be assassin targeted Scalise and other Republican members of Congress on an Alexandria, Va., ballfield in June 2017. He nearly lost his life that day.

Chairman Nadler said that awful June day that his “heart and thoughts go out” to Scalise and others involved in that attack. Three months later, Scalise was hailed by his fellow representatives as he stood, unsteadily on crutches, and told his fellow members, “You have no idea how great this feels to be back here, at work, in the people’s House.”

Rep. Scalise would have explained that his attacker had passed the very same background checks that were being proposed for expansion, had he not been denied that opportunity. Nadler claimed there were too many witnesses to include his testimony. But Scalise wasn’t having it. He told reporters that his voice should have been included in the debate. “Their answer to gun violence is to limit the rights of law-abiding citizens,” he told media. “Frankly, they ought to be focusing on punishing the criminals.”

What Congress Didn’t Hear

Instead, he released his prepared statement, telling the American people directly what he had intended to tell their representatives. These are just a few of the salient points Rep. Scalise wanted to share:

  • The new gun control restrictions currently being considered by the Democratic majority in H.R. 8 would not have prevented my shooting.
  • Instead, whether intentionally or not, the gun control proposals in H.R. 8 could turn law-abiding citizens into criminals while also failing to achieve the stated purpose of reducing gun violence.
  • In fact, most criminals obtain firearms through unlawful means — whether through theft, straw purchases, or lying on the required paperwork.
  • Every single month in America, law-abiding citizens with concealed carry permits defend themselves and others against criminals who have guns.
  • Instead of making it harder for citizens to defend themselves until law enforcement arrives, Congress should consider legislation like H.R. 38, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, a bill that would help law-abiding citizens have the same tools to defend themselves as a criminal has of trying to inflict harm, regardless of where they travel.
  • If our goal is to reduce gun violence, then we should focus on penalizing criminals, not law-abiding citizens.

‘Politics at Its Ugliest’

Chairman Nadler’s break from Congressional tradition to not allow testimony from a fellow member wasn’t because of time restrictions. It was because Rep. Scalise’s belief in the Second Amendment was only “fortified” through his ordeal. That is not the narrative that gun-control Democrats want the public to hear.

With 231 co-sponsors, passage of this gun control legislation by the House is likely. It’s fate in the Senate, however, is far less clear. The headline on Baton Rouge Advocate Dan Fagan’s column got it exactly right. The treatment of Scalise revealed “politics at its ugliest.”

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