Today, right now, there’s a bullet inside Steve Scalise. Hundreds of parts of a bullet, actually, fired from James Hodgkinson’s gun, an SKS semi-automatic rifle, which is legal. Hodgkinson open fired on Republicans practicing for the annual Congressional baseball game back in June; Scalise was playing 2nd base. As recounted in a detailed 60 Minutes segment this past Sunday, Scalise nearly bled to death after the bullet entered his left hip. He made it out alive thanks to a MacGyver’d tourniquet, a helicopter ride to the ER, and a massive blood transfusion.
Scalise, more than any other living American in the United States, has the power to change our country’s gun laws. Donald Trump can’t do it through an executive order because he knows it would obliterate his base. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell can’t do it from their respective perches because they lack the moral conviction and their fellow Republicans are ready to mutiny at a moment’s notice. Newtown wasn’t enough for Congress to rally around Chris Murphy of Connecticut. In a mildly sane world, Gabby Giffords getting shot in the head six years ago would have been enough, but Giffords is a Democrat, and here we are.
But no one could afford to oppose the House Majority Whip, a southern Republican if there ever was one, on this issue. Scalise hobbled into the chamber one week ago today to a standing ovation from every corner of the room.
Scalise shared his story on 60 Minutes as his wife, Jennifer, sat next to him staring at her husband through glassy eyes. Several hours after that episode aired, Stephen Paddock sprayed bullets through a broken window on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. As The New York Times notes, at least 12 of Paddock’s nearly two-dozen weapons were modified with bump stocks to turn his semi-autos into the closest thing you’ll see to a modern-day machine gun. Fully automatic weapons have been illegal since 1986; bump stock devices are the deadly loophole that make a mass shooting like Sunday night’s even easier to perpetrate.
Why is it so easy?
Scalise could draft legislation this week to make such devices illegal (an initiative reportedly under consideration in Republican circles). Furthermore, Scalise could amend the assault weapons ban to include the AR-15—the weapon of choice for mass shooters—and similar weapons like it. Scalise could create the infrastructure for universal background checks and institute new measures to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill.
But Scalise says the Vegas shooting “fortified” his stance on the 2nd amendment. At the moment, Scalise has an “A+ rating” from the NRA, a fact he proudly boasts on his official congressional page:
A strong supporter of the Second Amendment, Scalise has sponsored and cosponsored legislation protecting citizens’ right to keep and bear arms. In the 112th Congress, Scalise introduced H.R. 58, the Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act, which improves law-abiding citizens’ ability to purchase firearms. The bills Scalise has recently cosponsored include H.R.645, a bill to restore Second Amendment rights in the District of Columbia and the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, H.R.822, which would ensure national reciprocity for concealed carry permit holders. Congressman Scalise’s pro-gun stance has earned him an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. A member of the Congressional Second Amendment Task Force, Congressman Steve Scalise will continue fighting to protect every citizen’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Despite being a victim of gun violence, Scalise is one of several congressional leaders who has continued to prop up the 2nd amendment—after Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Newtown, after Orlando. He offered his thoughts and prayers after Vegas but no action. I reached out to his office multiple times requesting comment for this piece and never heard a single word in return.
Framing America’s uniquely prominent gun violence problem as a mental health issuewon’t stop the next mass shooting. Senator John Thune’s suggestion that those caught up in a mass shooting simply “duck” and “get small” is as laughable as it is insulting.
There will always be “bad people” doing “bad things.” Congress cannot end the concept of murder anymore than it can win a war on terror. The only thing Congress can do is decide which blunt instruments can legally be bought and sold on American soil. Banning the sale and production of bump stocks would be the very first step. Americans still have a right to arm and defend themselves. Retailers like Cabela’s—where Paddock bought at least six of his rifles—could still sell firearms, the question is what kind and to whom.
It’s not impossible. Scalise doesn’t even rank in the Top 10 of House Representatives who have received funding from the NRA. Nevertheless, Scalise could trade that NRA A+ for an F. And yes, the 3 percent of households who own half of all the guns in America would curse his name. The other 97 percent would thank him and venerate him as a hero for generations to come. There’s a bullet inside Steve Scalise, right now, today. What else is in there?