After Scalise Shooting, a Twist: Lawmakers Want to Loosen Gun Laws

WASHINGTON — After the nation’s worst mass shootings, in Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Orlando, Fla.; and Columbine High School in Colorado, gun control advocates rose to demand more rigorous laws: stricter background checks, limits on magazine capacities, bans on assault weapons and tougher controls on gun shows and online firearms markets — almost always to no avail.

But in the weeks after the June 14 shooting of Republicans at a congressional baseball practice, the response has had a twist: Conservative lawmakers, some of whom were nearly the victims of gun violence, have pressed to loosen gun controls.

Three bills introduced in the Republican-held House during the past two weeks would allow lawmakers to almost always carry a concealed weapon. A fourth would allow concealed carry permits obtained in other states to be recognized in the District of Columbia. Still another would eliminate federal controls on silencers.

Most of the legislation has been in development for months, and in some cases, years. But the shooting in Alexandria, Va., which left Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the majority whip, grievously injured and three others less seriously wounded, served as motivation for Republicans on both sides of the Capitol to move.

“Have they ever been shot at, multiple times, at close range, trying to save someone without any way to defend yourself?” Representative Barry Loudermilk, who was on the field during the shooting, said of gun control advocates.

“When you’ve experienced that yourself, maybe then we can have this debate,” said Mr. Loudermilk, Republican of Georgia, evoking some of the emotion often conveyed by victims of gun violence who come to Washington seeking gun safety laws.

The legislative push underlines a continuing partisan clash after highly publicized mass shootings, one in which national lawmakers tussle over gun regulation and rarely stray from party lines. Gun rights legislation after the baseball practice shooting received a lift: The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would require each state to honor another state’s concealed carry permits, reached 200 co-sponsors.

“I think what happened in Alexandria sharpened people’s resolve to make sure this right is protected,” said Representative Richard Hudson, Republican of North Carolina, who introduced the bill in January.


What Happened at the Shooting at a Congressional Baseball Practice

Five people were shot at a morning practice about five miles from the Capitol, the police said.

Politicians in the District of Columbia have spent years trying to stave off congressional Republican efforts to weaken the city’s gun control laws, but never under these circumstances.

“Washington, D.C., is the last place you want to condone or allow concealed-carry weapons,” said Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting House member. “They are certainly not going to be successful if I have anything to say about it.”

She said she objected not only to the attempt to bypass the city’s strict gun laws, but also to the timing of the push.

“It says everything about my colleagues that they would use the occasion of a tragedy on one of our members to come forward the day after with one of these bills,” Ms. Holmes Norton said.

But those who were on the field during the shooting, such as Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, are motivated. Mr. Brooks, who is in a heated primary campaign for a Senate seat, introduced a bill that would allow members to carry a concealed weapon anywhere except in the Capitol and in the presence of the president or the vice president.

“Now seemed like an appropriate time to introduce it because of the obvious risk congressmen and senators face, as evidenced by the attack,” Mr. Brooks said.

“It makes it very difficult to slide into second base when you have a pistol on your side,” Mr. Crowley said.

When lawmakers return this week from their Fourth of July recess, the politics of guns could return with them. Just before they left, Senators Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, and Mike Crapo, Republican of Idaho, introduced a bill that would eliminate the federal regulation of silencers.


A display at a National Rifle Association show in Harrisburg, Pa., in February. A proposed bill would eliminate federal controls on silencers. CreditDominick Reuter/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Earlier that day, the National Rifle Association released an advertisement featuring incendiary charges that “they use their media to assassinate real news,” and images of violent protesters, concluding with a call to “fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.”

In contrast to the sit-in that followed the deadly Orlando nightclub shooting last year, Democrats have refrained from introducing new gun control legislation like the measure they pressed to bar gun sales to people on federal terrorism watch lists. Instead, they have focused on objecting to gun-rights legislation before congressional committees.

“Congress right now is a difficult place for any progressive issue, and ours is no exception,” said Josh Horwitz, the executive director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “I’m disgusted by the fact that we have to have mass shooting after mass shooting, and Congress isn’t doing anything about it.”

Before the end of July, Representatives Peter King, Republican of New York, and Mike Thompson, Democrat of California, plan to reintroduce their bipartisan bill to expand federal background checks to cover all gun sales, including online purchases — legislation inspired by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. But Mr. King admitted he was pessimistic.

“Everything has been tried, and if Sandy Hook didn’t change people’s opinions, if Gabby Giffords’ case didn’t change people’s opinions, then it’s hard to see at this stage what would change,” said Mr. King, citing the shooting of a colleague, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona.

States have steadily drifted away from once-strict prohibitions on carrying concealed guns since the 1980s, when 19 states refused to allow concealed carry, said Robert Spitzer, a State University of New York professor who specializes in gun control research. Now, he said, more than half of the states have laws that make it relatively easy to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon, a reversal heavily influenced by the N.R.A.’s state lobbying.

Republican majorities in recent years have in the House shut down gun control legislation, and in the Senate stopped measures to block gun purchases by people on the federal terrorism watch list and to tighten background check rules.

The debate in Washington is now shifting to federal legislation that would effectively block individual states from prohibiting the carrying of concealed guns.

“We think it boils down to safety and people being able to protect themselves,” said Erich Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, a gun rights group that is considered more conservative than the N.R.A. “The bad guys are always going to get guns.”

Mr. Spitzer said such safety is probably illusory.

“The weight of evidence suggests strongly that concealed carry does nothing to improve public safety,” Mr. Spitzer said. “That’s the most optimistic thing you can say statistically.”