The attempted assassination Wednesday morning of Louisiana Republican Congressman Steve Scalise in suburban Washington D.C. has shaken the nation.
Certainly, lawmakers now realize how vulnerable they are to mentally unstable people with access to firearms who disagree with them politically.
At Friday’s Tampa Tiger Bay Club, five members of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation were asked their thoughts on what the shooting means for Floridians, and the nation.
Plant City Republican House member Dan Raulerson said the answer was simple — everyone, especially lawmakers — should be armed.
“I think each one of those congressmen should be carrying a weapon. I think we all should be carrying a weapon,” he said, creating a buzz of dissent in the audience among the liberal-leaning Tiger Bay members at Friday’s meeting at the Ferguson Law Center in downtown Tampa.
“I’m sorry folks, I’m sorry, but here’s the point,” Raulerson said. “The Constitution gives us the right to bear arms, but also gives us the responsibility to own and operate a weapon.”
As widely noted, probably the only reason there wasn’t more carnage on that baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia where Congressional Republicans were at practice was that Scalise, as a member of House leadership, had police protection. That’s something that most regular members of Congress don’t have.
“Now we’re discussing should we fund armed security for each of us?” Raulerson asked with disdain. “No, we can’t do that, we can’t afford that. But we do have the right and the ability to protect ourselves, and that’s what the Constitution gives us.”
The other two Republicans on the panel — Tampa House District 63 Rep. Shawn Harrison and Brandon Sen. Tom Lee — wouldn’t go as far as Raulerson in providing a tidy policy prescription based on the Wednesday’s shooting.
“Life is about balance. Law abiding citizens should be allowed to own guns,” said Harrison. “We have to do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of people who have mental instability. Clearly what we had was a crazy person in Virginia who hated a different member of a political party, and took that out on those members of different political parties.”
Federal law enforcement officials identified the alleged shooter as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois, who died following a shootout with authorities. He was said to be a Bernie Sanders supporter who loathed President Donald Trump and other Republicans.
Harrison said there’s too much hate in the country.
“We need to start realizing that just because you have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ next to your name, you’re not the enemy of the other side,” he said, adding that “we need to work on constructive dialogue to keep crazy people from doing crazy things.”
Lee compared the situation to the drug problem in America, saying whether it’s pill mills or heroine or Fentanyl, “these are a demand-size problem, not supply-side problems.”
The two Democrats on the panel — St. Petersburg-based lawmakers Darryl Rouson and Wengay Newton, chimed in as well.
Rouson talked about the fact that he was pleased that though there was a slew of pro-gun bills on the agenda of some lawmakers (such as Sarasota Senate Republican Greg Steube, who had 10 such bills filed), few of them passed this year.
Newton said it was all about ensuring that the mentally ill didn’t get access to firearms, though he didn’t say how that could be accomplished.
“The laws are only put in for people who abide by the law,” he said. “If you’re not a law-abiding citizen, the law does not mean Jack.”
The Republicans on the panel were also challenged on two consecutive questions from the audience about their refusal to expand Medicaid when it came before them back in 2013 (that was the only year when a serious attempt for a hybrid form of Medicaid expansion was passed in the Senate but lost in the House).
Harrison had the distinction of being one of only three House Republicans to support the Senate bill (which earned him applause when he said that).
“My belief was while the feds are paying 100 percent, why not see if it can work?” he said.
Lee also supported the plan (only St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes opposed it in the Senate). He disputed that it was a clash between the parties, and said, in this case, it was “inner chamber problems.”
When asked how much they are paying for their health insurance, all five lawmakers confessed it was only $180 a month.
“Must be nice,” one audience member muttered.