WASHINGTON — After more than 30 people were killed in mass shootings over the weekend, Louisiana leaders condemned the violence but stopped short of calling for stricter regulations on guns.
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, said Monday he still opposes efforts to pass mandatory background checks and other gun regulations that would not have prevented recent mass shootings. He said the background check bill that the House passed earlier this year relies on is flawed.
“We’re going to make a grave error to pass these bills that emotionally make us feel good. It doesn’t do a damn thing about the violence that is out there,” Graves said during the Baton Rouge Press Club’s weekly luncheon. “This is a huge issue.”
He displayed a chart showing an increase in slayings after Washington, D.C., put restrictions on guns.
“I believe I can step out and condemn hate-filled talk and rhetoric, I can condemn evil mass shootings and I can stand up for the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” Graves said.
Graves said family and friends should intervene when someone in their lives start writing and publishing troubling manifestos on the internet.
“The divisiveness, the partisanship you have seen is completely out of hand,” Graves said. “We are on a dangerous trajectory.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, a Jefferson Republican who narrowly survived a mass shooting in 2017, said he doesn't think shootings should be used as political fodder.
"These events are tragedies," he said. "Reducing them to talking points and name-calling in support of narrow political agendas only further divides our country."
At least 22 people were killed and dozens more injured when a gunman opened fire at an El Paso, Texas Walmart on Saturday. Hours later, at least nine more people were killed and more injured in a mass shooting in a Dayton, Ohio, bar district.
Louisiana's congressional delegation joined other leaders, including President Donald Trump, in speaking out against the shootings.
"In a media culture that encourages viewing people solely through hyper-partisan lenses, and not as neighbors and fellow citizens, dangerous division and hatred of those you disagree with is the outcome," Scalise said. "This can often lead to violent consequences, as I've personally experienced."
The U.S. House in February voted 240-190 in favor of legislation that would place additional background check requirements on gun purchases. It's unlikely to be considered in the GOP-controlled Senate.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, the only Democrat in the Louisiana delegation, has also been the only member from the state to support tighter restrictions on guns, including the background check proposal.
“Over the weekend, our nation faced back-to-back tragedies that should have never taken place. It’s a shame we live in a country that has banned plastic straws yet has made assault weapons more accessible than obtaining a visa," he said. "I am a firm believer that where there’s the will, there’s a way. It’s time for (U.S. Sen.) Mitch McConnell to bring the bills we passed in the House to the floor of the Senate. I will continue doing my job in Congress to ensure all Americans feel safe and welcome.”
U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, posted a stinging missive directed at the shooters on his Facebook page.
"You are evil, you and all like you, sub-human, like any common gang-thug murderer or any jihadist-terrorist driven by hate, all in service to powers and principalities," he wrote. "May you and all of your ilk suffer eternal damnation."
U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Benton, shared with his Twitter followers a simple plea: "God have mercy on our nation."
Johnson also condemned the racist motivations behind the El Paso shooter, who espoused anti-immigrant sentiment in a manifesto posted online before the shooting.
“Racism, hatred and white supremacy violate the most fundamental principles of our great nation," Johnson said. "The central idea of America is that we boldly declare the self-evident truths that all men are created equal and are thus endowed by their creator with the same inalienable rights. Because each of us is made in the image of God, every single person has inestimable dignity and value — which is wholly unrelated to the color of our skin, what neighborhood we live in or what we make on the ACT. Any fool who contends he has a natural right of supremacy over his neighbors violates not only the foundation creed of America, but the greatest commandments of the God who created him.”
U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, an Alto Republican who is running for governor, also condemned the attacks.
“Anyone who intentionally takes innocent lives is pure evil, a coward, and does not deserve to breath the same air the rest of us do. I hope justice is swift and permanent. Keep the people of El Paso and Dayton in your prayers. They will need it," he said.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, released a statement thanking first responders who handled the two shootings. "These acts of pure evil have no place in our country," he said. "We are praying for all of the victims, their families, and the El Paso and Dayton communities."
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Madisonville, called the shootings "horrific."
"It was evil," he said. "The families of the victims, the people injured and the brave officers who rushed to help all need our prayers tonight."
Mark Ballard of the Capitol News Bureau contributed to this report.