What tragic common bond do Democrat Gabrielle Giffords and Republican Steve Scalise share? Both were nearly killed in separate shooting incidents six years apart.
However, these two former House colleagues had starkly different reactions to the mass shootings at a country music concert in Las Vegas last Sunday night. That’s when a lone gunman slaughtered at least 59 people and wounded more than 520 others before apparently killing himself.
Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly stormed Capitol Hill last Monday, prodding political leaders to pass stricter gun control laws. Scalise didn’t mention that. Instead, he said, “In this tragic moment, I encourage people across America to stand together in solidarity, and to support the Las Vegas community and all those affected, especially by giving blood and encouraging others to do the same. In the face of unspeakable evil, our whole nation must respond with countless acts of kindness, warmth and generosity.”
The contrasting views of Giffords and Scalise personify the larger and longer gun control discussions and debates that have lingered on Capitol Hill for decades. Even in the aftermath of this evil and senseless massacre of innocent Americans, entrenched partisans on both sides are likely to hold their ground on gun control. As one House Republican, who favors stronger background checks for gun buyers, aptly asserted, “The left will ask for too much and the right will view anything as capitulation.”
For many, if not most, Republicans in both houses of Congress, the “elephant in the room” on gun control is none other than the National Rifle Association (NRA). They are loath to incur the wrath of this powerful gun lobby that reportedly “spent more than $52 million backing candidates in the 2016 cycle, $30 million on Trump alone.” Hence, faint-hearted incumbents would rather French kiss a coral snake than sponsor gun control measures that could result in the NRA recruiting and funding primary challengers to run against them.
The genesis of all these gun control discussions and debates is the Second Amendment to our U.S. Constitution, which states, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” I think James Madison and others intentionally linked the “militia” with the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms.”
After all, when this amendment became part of the 10 “Bill of Rights” amendments to the Constitution on Dec. 15, 1791, our fledgling nation was still struggling to survive as a representative democracy or republic. That was something new and potentially threatening to the traditional world powers. Thus, the need for the militia, and the people to rally to it when called, as they were during the Revolutionary War and later conflicts.
But that was 226 years ago. I doubt Madison and his colleagues had in mind protecting the kind of freedom to keep and bear arms that a madman exercised last Sunday to murder and maim so many fellow Americans.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at email@example.com.