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Wednesday, August 21, 2019 1:00 am

Scalise visits Whitley, touts current gun laws

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

The Republican congressman critically wounded by a gunman in 2017 said Tuesday that current firearms laws are sufficient for trying to prevent mass shootings.

“What I would like to see is us to continue to focus on making the existing laws actually work,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said during a visit to Whitley County.

“In many cases with mass shootings, we've seen people falling through the cracks that shouldn't have been able to legally buy a gun,” Scalise said, mentioning deadly attacks at a high school in Parkland, Florida, last year and churches in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017 and Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

“In all of those cases those people shouldn't have been able to buy a gun because the old background check system didn't work,” he told news media.

Scalise was the featured guest at a campaign fundraiser for Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, at the Joseph Decuis Farm. About 300 people were expected to attend the event, which a Banks campaign spokesman said would raise $50,000.

Scalise and three other people were injured by a gunman in 2017 in Alexandria, Virginia, during practice for the Congressional Baseball Game. Police killed the attacker in a shootout.

After recent mass shootings that left 32 people dead in Dayton and El Paso, Texas, gun-control advocates have renewed demands for longer waiting periods for gun-purchase background checks as well as a ban on the sale of semi-automatic assault-style rifles.

But Scalise said the Fix NICS Act approved by a Republican Congress and signed by President Donald Trump weeks after the Parkland shootings had bolstered the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to ensure that criminals and people with mental illnesses “are getting into the system.”

“If somebody's not doing their job in government that should have stopped (a gun sale) from happening, let's go hold them accountable. Don't punish law-abiding citizens” with additional restrictions on gun purchases, he said.

Scalise, who has walked with the aid of a cane since he was shot, praised Trump for outlawing devices known as bump stocks, which speed the firing of semi-automatic weapons, and he said Congress should give the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security “the tools that they've asked for” for investigating domestic terrorism.

Banks agreed with Scalise's assessments.

“As Steve says, we need to enforce the laws that we have,” Banks said.

The Columbia City resident said he has been “very focused” on methods for “identifying radical extremist groups, identifying some of these shooters before they ever take the actions that they have. I think there are ways that we can do that working with the FBI and other federal agencies.”

Scalise withheld judgment about reports Tuesday that Trump had confirmed he is considering recommending that Congress temporarily reduce payroll taxes, which fund Social Security and Medicare.

“When I see a formal proposal, I'll talk with the president about it,” Scalise said. 

“I like the sound of it,” Banks said. “I haven't read much about the proposal and don't know that an actual proposal exists at this point other than the president talking about it. I haven't seen the plan but look forward to reading it when we have an opportunity to do that.”

Scalise's appearance was the third visit he has made to northeast Indiana's 3rd Congressional District since 2016 to help Banks raise campaign money. House members next face re-election in November 2020. 

Banks has an announced challenger in next year's Republican primary election: Chris Magiera, the husband of Pam Galloway, who finished fourth in the six-candidate GOP primary won by Banks in 2016. 

bfrancisco@jg.net