Shooting at congressional baseball practice reignites gun debate

WASHINGTON — The shooting that injured several people, including a member of Congress, at a Republican congressional baseball team practice on Wednesday has re-energized both sides of the gun debate.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who was among the team members at the scene when the shooting happened, offered a forceful statement in support of the Second Amendment when asked whether the experience changes his views on America’s gun situation.

“The Second Amendment right to bear arms is to help ensure that we always have a republic,” he said. “And as with any constitutional provision in the Bill of Rights, there are adverse aspects to each of those rights that we enjoy as people. And what we just saw here is one of the bad side effects of someone not exercising those rights properly.”

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who was not at the practice, told a Buffalo television station he has decided to carry his gun with him everywhere as a result of the shooting.

"I have a carry permit," he told WKBW. "On a rare occasion I’d have my gun in the glove box or something, but it’s going to be in my pocket from this day forward."

But Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called for more background checks and closing the "gun-show loophole," while saying the political debate should wait for another day.

"We need to do more to protect all of our citizens," he said during a news conference after the shooting. "This is not what today is about, but there are too many guns on the street."

The shooting occurred on the same day members of Congress were set to hold a hearing on legislation to deregulate gun silencers. The hearing was was among those canceled Wednesday in the wake of the shooting, as the House suspended legislative activity.

The sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, apparently spoke to the shooter who opened fire on the baseball practice, and he said he gave a statement to police. Duncan said the alleged shooter asked him in the parking lot whether it was a Republican or Democratic practice.

Duncan’s bill is shaping up to be one of the latest flash points in the gun debate, as gun rights advocates say silencers help protect the hearing of hunters and sports shooters while gun control proponents say weakening silencer restrictions undermines public safety. 

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Leading up to the hearing, gun control advocates accused “gun-lobby backed members” of attempting to “sneak a dangerous provision” into a larger bill. Called the Hearing and Protection Act, the silencer provision is included in the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act package, which has passed the House in three Congresses without the silencer provision.

The SHARE Act aims to guarantee access to federal lands for hunting, fishing and shooting. One provision would eliminate federal authority to reclassify rifle ammunition as “armor piercing ammunition.”

Duncan’s Hearing Protection Act measure would remove silencers from the National Firearms Act, which has regulated silencers along with machine guns for more than 80 years. It is backed by the National Rifle Association.

Gun-control groups say the bill puts gun manufacturers’ profits over safety and would allow dangerous people to buy silencers with no background check, just by finding an unlicensed seller. They say crimes with suppressors are rare because the current law works, but the results are devastating when silencers are used.

On Wednesday, gun-control groups’ immediate response to the shooting was support for the victims. Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot at a 2011 constituent meeting in Tucson, tweeted, “My heart is with my former colleagues, their families & staff, and the US Capitol Police- public servants and heroes today and every day.”

But gun-control advocates also called for congressional action, even as a Republican Congress and president prioritize legislation to protect gun rights.

"Americans across the political spectrum are fed up with lawmakers’ inaction in the face of this epidemic of gun violence," a statement from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said. "We need Democrats and Republicans to work together on common-sense gun reform that is supported by a majority of Americans and would save countless lives.”

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, wrote that Americans should be able to practice baseball, dance in a nightclub, and attend religious services without the threat of gun violence.

"We deserve better," she wrote on HuffPost. "We must come together to make it better. So much of the gun violence in America is not only senseless, but preventable. There are solutions."

John Rosenthal, co-founder of the Newton-based Stop Handgun Violence, said he hoped the incident would motivate Congress to pass stricter gun laws, including universal background checks and reinstating the federal ban on assault-type weapons, which was passed by Congress in 1994 but allowed to lapse in 2004. Currently, more than 30 states don't require private sellers to conduct background checks on gun sales.

But Rosenthal said he didn’t hold much hope.

“Congress didn’t care when 20 babies got shot at Sandy Hook,” Rosenthal said, alluding to the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., where 20 grade schoolers and six adults were killed. “They’re certainly not going to care when it’s another one of them who got shot.”

Contributing: Rick Jervis, USA TODAY