Rep. Steve Scalise, a shooting survivor, has unique role in gun debate
Published 8:12 PM EDT Sep 16, 2019
BALTIMORE – Rep. Steve Scalise brought something that other top Republicans simply couldn’t when they huddled at the White House last week.
The group was there to meet with President Donald Trump and discuss legislative priorities in the fall, including what to do about gun control after a spate of mass shootings this summer. Along with the other congressional leaders, Scalise, as House minority whip, offered his insights on the issue, but he also carried with him a distinct perspective others did not: one of a victim of gun violence.
During the meeting, the president brought up the 2017 congressional baseball shooting – the attack that nearly killed Scalise after he and three others were shot as they practiced for the annual baseball game at a field just outside of Washington, D.C.
Scalise underwent numerous surgeries after the shooting, including some to save his life, and spent months in rehabilitation. Scalise, who is an avid Second Amendment supporter, still uses a cane and walks with a limp.
“We talked about a lot of different policies; we all have our different perspectives that we bring,” Scalise told USA TODAY of the White House meeting. “And what’s important is that we’re, you know, we’re candid with each other, we respect each other. And, you know, I’m going to advocate for things that I think are the best interest of the country.”
Scalise is the only current member of Congress who has been shot while in office and yet, has also been thrust into the ongoing negotiations over how to address the growing number of gun killings in communities across the nation.
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Though others in Congress have firsthand experience with the effects of gun violence, including Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who was shot in 1978 in Guyana— 30 years before serving in Congress, and Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., a freshman Democrat whose son was killed in 2012, Scalise is not supportive of measures posed by liberals, such as a ban on assault weapons or universal background checks.
Instead, he is looked at as a leader on Second Amendment rights within the Republican Party, even though he doesn’t believe the shooting has prompted him to become a leading advocate for protecting the rights of gun owners.
“I don’t think I need to have a higher role on that than any other issue,” Scalise explained to USA TODAY at the House Republicans’retreat in Baltimore. “But I know, I’m aware that it’s, it’s given a sharper focus to the way I view it.”
He added: “I saw guns used to defend me from a shooter.”
Scalise says he’s taken issue with the responses often given by Democrats after high-profile shootings, such as the opposition to offering thoughts and prayers or gun control measures that are often discussed after an attack that he says infringe on Second Amendment rights and targets law-abiding gun owners.
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“We have to pray for the victims and it’s, it’s disappointing to see some people want to try to move away from prayer,” he said. “The first thing they want to do is go promote a gun control agenda, and in many cases, promote their own bills, that would have had nothing to do with stopping that shooting.”
He called the moves by some Democrats promoting such legislation “incredibly selfish,” explaining that “their focus is on themselves instead of the victims.”
But Republicans are facing intense pressure to take up legislation on guns and congressional Democrats say they aren’t backing down after the string of four high-profile shootings this summer — most while Congress was on a six-week recess.
The most recent shooting, an attack in the Midland-Odessa area of Texas, left at least seven dead on Aug. 31. That shooting followed back-to-back-to-back massacres in Gilroy, Calif., El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The four shootings left a total of 43 people dead and many more injured.
The White House meeting last week, which along with Scalise, featured Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Whip John Thune and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, focused on a variety of possible proposals on combatting the cycle of mass shootings but the president has yet to publicly back any measures that he would sign into law.
Some of the proposals being considered are adding the death penalty for mass shooters, allowing more records for background checks and tougher penalties for so-called straw purchasers, those who buy weapons for people who aren’t legally allowed to have a gun.
Talks between the White House and lawmakers continue and some on Capitol Hill believe the White House could provide some clarity on gun legislation this week. A compromise, though, could be hard to come by as Democrats continue to push for universal background checks, which many Republicans view as a non-starter. McConnell has continued to point to the White House for guidance, vowing not to take up proposals if they will not be signed by the president.
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Throughout the week, Democrats are expected to continue putting pressure on Republicans to address gun laws. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke with the president about background check legislation on Sunday and a gun forum is planned this week to discuss the effects of shootings on children and inaction in the Senate on gun control measures.
Contributing: Deborah Barfield Berry