For these members of Congress, the gun debate is personal

Three lawmakers who have experienced gun violence discuss what Congress should do about the issue

From left to right: Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) (Speier and McBath photos by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call; Scalise photo by Chris Kleponis/AP)

The past two sessions of Congress saw a record amount of legislation related to firearms, the most ever introduced per session, going back nearly a half-century. The congressional periods that began in 2017 and 2015 each had more than 400 gun measures filed, according to Congress.gov, which began tracking federal legislation in 1973. In that session 46 years ago, just slightly more than 150 firearm-related proposals were introduced.

A considerable number of the gun bills that have been introduced this session focus on ways to tighten background check requirements. There are also other potential policies that address narrow issues within the gun debate, such as proposals that require secure firearm storage when children are present in the home, or laws that would prohibit the distribution of 3-D gun printing instructions.

Several background check bills have passed the House since the session that began in January 2019, but no significant gun legislation has passed both chambers so far this term.

When it comes to gun policy, what exactly should Congress be focused on? We posed that question to lawmakers who have survived gun violence or lost a family member in a shooting. Here, they discuss how they see this ongoing debate, and what they believe should be Congress’ primary concern when it comes to guns.

“It clearly was people with guns that saved my life.”

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.)

In the early-morning hours of June 14, 2017, Rep. Steve Scalise, then the House majority whip, was shot by a 66-year-old gunman who targeted lawmakers while they practiced for an annual charity baseball game.

Three others were also wounded, including a Capitol police officer, a congressional aide and a lobbyist.

A bullet struck Scalise’s left hip, traveled straight through to the other hip and severely damaged bone and internal organs. When he awoke from a coma shortly after the shooting, Scalise says he was particularly encouraged by a call he received from former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot in 2011, during an event with her constituents. “For her to reach out that way meant a lot. Surely we have some different views on guns and gun control, but I appreciated that she cared enough to reach out.” Scalise spent six weeks in the hospital before being released.

“Why do we need more guns in this country than we have people?”

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.)

It would take 22 hours before help arrived at the Guyana airstrip where Rep. Jackie Speier lay after being shot five times at point-blank range.

The shooting occurred hours before the Jonestown massacre in 1978, when more than 900 followers of cult leader Jim Jones died as a part of a mass suicide. Speier was working as an aide to Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Calif.) and accompanied him on a trip to investigate claims that some of his constituents were being held against their will by the cult. After the congressional delegation left to board a flight back to the United States, associates of Jones opened fire on them on the airstrip. Ryan was killed, along with three journalists and a Jonestown defector. Speier first ran for Congress in a special election for Ryan’s seat after the shooting, but lost the race. She spent most of her career in California state politics before being elected to Congress in 2008.

“Everyone is at risk, whether you’re a gun owner or not.”

Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.)

One look around Rep. Lucy McBath’s office and you can tell she is deeply in love with her son. Pictures of him are everywhere, and a large art print portrait of him is displayed on the wall across from her seat. The fact that she’ll never have any new photos to add to her collection is in part why she ran in the 2018 midterm elections for a congressional seat in a reliably red district of Georgia, once held by former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

The 2012 death of McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, was labeled the “loud music” shooting. Davis and a group of friends were parked in front of a Jacksonville, Fla., convenience store when a man in the vehicle next to them shot into their car after confronting them about the music they were listening to. Davis was hit multiple times and died shortly after. The shooter was found guilty of murder in 2014.

McBath says she felt compelled to run for Congress after seeing the students from Parkland start the March for our Lives movement.

Story by Rhonda Colvin

Video by Rhonda Colvin, Whitney Shefte, Joyce Koh, Jenny Starrs and Breanna Muir

Design by Brandon Ferrill

Credits: Rhonda Colvin

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