Gun Control Could Save GOP Politicians’ Lives Too

Photo by

After the neo-Nazi Richard Spencer got punched in the face, many of my fellow progressives laughed.

Wrong. Our tolerance of political violence should be zero. I join millions of Democrats and Republicans alike in wishing for the speedy and full recoveries of Rep. Steve Scalese and other victims of the baseball-field shooting here in Alexandria. Thanks to our brave local police as well as the Capitol Hill Police for limiting the mayhem.

My multi-ethnic hometown is normally peaceful and harmonious. A Confederate statue, unmovable due to an old law still imposed on us by our GOP-dominated State Legislature, stands undefaced in the middle of Washington Street. 

For that matter, Spencer runs his racist think tank out of an Alexandria townhouse and hasn’t been shot at yet even if a gym has expelled him. Good. Let bullets rip apart no one of any ideology.

But as deplorable as the baseball-field shooting was—officials should have prosecuted the suspect to the max, had he lived--I’ll avoid “Don’t blame the victim” rhetoric. Granted, House Majority Whip Scalese is father to two children, and I hope he lives to 108. But do blame Scalese and like-minded politicians as a group--along with some extreme leftists--for helping to make violence and hate crimes more common. This is not “political exploitation.” It is simply the truth.

Scalese is a steadfast supporter of Donald Trump, who has described the congressman as “a true friend.” Trump set the tone for the 2017 Presidential campaign. When a heckler interrupted him at a rally, the then-candidate said: “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They'd be carried out on a stretcher, folks." 

Of Hillary Clinton, Trump said: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks…although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is, I don’t know.” 

The New York Times cut to the chase. “Oblique as it was, Mr. Trump’s remark quickly elicited a wave of condemnation from Democrats, gun control advocates and others, who accused him of suggesting violence against Mrs. Clinton or liberal jurists. Bernice A. King, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., called Mr. Trump’s words ‘distasteful, disturbing, dangerous.’”

Extra-stringent, truly comprehensive gun control at the federal level may or may not have prevented the baseball-field shooting Wednesday. Still, a national ban on working assault weapons in the hands of civilians would have at least partly stymied violence-prone “Second Amendment people” of all ideologies. says: “A review of mass shootings between January 2009 and January 2013 by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that incidents where assault weapons or large capacity ammunition magazines were used resulted in 135% more people shot and 57% more killed, compared to other mass shootings.” 

Across the river from me, D.C. law prohibits assault weapons. No such luck in most of Illinois, the shooter’s home state, or in Virginia--adults here can own them. 

Meanwhile some past polls have shown that most Americans are at odds with the National Rifle Association on the assault weapon issue. A federal ban on these killers existed once, flawed but still useful. No more, thanks to the NRA and gun makers with fat wallets. Steve Scalese himself received at least $5,000 from the NRA in the 2016 election cycle. 

Will Republican ideologues like Scalese listen? I doubt it, and, alas, that is at their own peril. As the Alexandria tragedy may show, right-wing crazies aren't the only nuts with assault rifles. If I were a GOP congress member, I'd be scared. Same for Democrats, too. A deranged Republican may seek revenge or target a political foe for other reasons. The shooting of former Rep. Gabby Giffords reminded us of the risks in both directions.

In this case, the alleged shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, was apparently a former Bernie Sanders volunteer said to be “living out of a gym bag” at age 66. He is dead. We don’t know what he was thinking. But we can speculate and remember all angry people for whom Republican healthcare would be a death sentence, whether or not this was true for Hodgkinson. Laws, yes, can kill. To slightly tweak a campaign line that Trump used in an entirely different context, some may think: “What do I have to lose?” Steve Scalese has fought hard for Republicans’ misleadingly ballyooed healthcare legislation, aka “wealthcare” via tax cuts for the rich.

Again, no one should be shot or even punched. No justification! Realistically, however, if smug Republican don’t learn and if they keep enraging so many people, they are multiplying the chances of death at the hands of their victims. Forget the fruits of gerrymandering and voter suppression and corrupt campaign laws. May the Republicans instead think survival. The risks will only grow as gun-toting Trumpists finally grasp the extent of their betrayal.

I hope Congress sets aside more money for security precautions. But in the end the best way to reduce threats to Republican members’ lives, whether they admit it or not, will be a mix of gun control and compassion toward the millions whom GOP lawmakers are now dead set on shafting in various ways--to free up billions in tax cuts for wealthy campaign donors. What’s more, among many other messages, an impeachment of Trump would be a powerful statement against violence in campaign rhetoric even if his bloody language weren’t an official reason. Don’t be fooled by a reality show star’s ability to act “Presidential” at times. And no false equivalents, please. Democrats have had their lapses, but not from within the Oval Office

Let Republican and Democrats play baseball together and otherwise socialize and become much, much friendlier at the personal level. But let this not this interfere with the removal from office of Donald “Carry them out on a stretcher” Trump. The shooter must have been a sick man inside. But so is a fomenter of violence like President Trump, and bipartisan amnesia about his past words and deeds will ill-serve us.

5 Comments For This Article

JB Smith

What?! If not for the luck of having the Majority Whip in attendance, there would have been no one at the ball field armed and able to prevent what would have surely been a slaughter of "sitting ducks" in that dugout. Do you really think all of those sitting ducks will now sit by and subject themseves to some type of perverse unarmed helplessness law which you would seek to impose on American citizens? Oh, you say that you would only seek to impose small gun magazine limitations on the sitting ducks or slow firing non-semiautomatic limitations on the defense of the sitting ducks? Or you would only seek to limit the defense of the sitting ducks to guns which don't actually "assault" under "assault gun" bans (despite studies which have shown that such laws from the Bill Clinton era did ZERO to help defenders of innocent people when such laws were forced on the law-abiding portion of the US constituency in the 1990's)?! Take your unarmed defenseless laws to Venezuela where democratic socialist Chavez managed to create the most murderous society on earth with such defenselessness laws. On second thought, do us all a favor and just sentence you and yours to unarmed defenselessness instead, and let Darwinism have its way with you, if that's what you so desire.

David Rothman

JB Smith: I've already given statistics showing how assault weapons increase the mayhem. You're welcome to your own numbers. But commonsense would suggest that the harder we make it to obtain assault weapons, the more lives we'll save. No law could ever be completely effective. But we at least can work to reduce the mayhem.

Also, who says I want members of Congress to be helpless? Remember, I'm calling for more security spending, and, yes, full-powered assault weapons in the hands of the Capitol Hill Police would be fine by me. As for the safety of nonCongresss members, most people have better things to do with their lives than to spend time on target practice (beyond the issue of shelling out the money for the weapons and ammo). That's what police forces are for. Imagine a society where everyone feels compelled to tote around assault weapons to match the bad buys' firepower in just-in-case scenarios.

Meanwhile, getting back to Congress members, let's not forget the risks created by the growing disconnect between the interests of the American people and the words and deeds on Capitol Hill. I'll stand by the column. Alas, if the GOP healthcare, er, wealthcare, package goes through, some of the biggest risks to the safety of Republican politicians may come from disappointed Trumpists who finally understand the extent to which the pols conned them to free up money for the tax cuts for billionaires. I'd rather no one died, whether from inadequate healthcare or assassins' bullets. Oh, and, yes, I most definitely do plead guilty to an intense loathing of Darwinism as public policy.

Noel Field

"I join millions of Democrats and Republicans alike in wishing for the speedy and full recoveries of Rep. Steve Scalese..."

Based on the 'bug-up-the-butt' tone to this sacred, that seems unlikely.

David Rothman

Noel Field: Actually some of my best friends over the years have been staunch conservatives, including, at one point, the son of one of Barry Goldwater's speech writers. I have always wished them well on personal matters. And I in fact feel the same toward Steve Scalese and the likeminded (however loathsome I find their healthcare legislation) even if I do not know the Republican shooting victims. See May Rep. Scalese and the others make full recoveries!

Furthermore, keep in mind that the next victims may be Democratic politicians. I don't want people in any party imperiled, given the risks to American democracy. Angry town halls and other peaceful protests? Bring them on--and the urgently needed impeachment of Donald Trump! But no violence, and no rooting for political foes to die.

In a related vein, for all I know, I may strongly agree with Rep. Scalese on a few issues. My political opposite William F. Buckley Jr. wrote two "On the Right" columns at my suggestion calling for a well-stocked national digital library system, a cause dear to me.

Simply put, we can't write off politicians or commentators on everything. Beyond the issues of decency and sustainable democracy, there are very practical reasons for thinking good thoughts for the other people at the personal level even if we despise their politics and in many cases don't share values.

Don Stone

Rifles account for far fewer homicides than either knives, blunt objects, or body parts. Two orders of magnitude less to be exact.

If you really cared about reducing firearms deaths, you would focus on handgun regulation because concealability is much more important than ammo capacity to gun criminals. But we all know that politicians and pundits pushing for bans on modern sporting rifles are more interested in suppressing the population than in protecting it..