WASHINGTON — U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise told a crowd of thousands of National Rifle Association members Friday that he was surprised after narrowly surviving a mass shooting that some people expected his views on guns would change.
If anything, Scalise told the crowd at the pro-gun rights group's annual meeting in Indianapolis on Friday, the incident reaffirmed his support for fewer restrictions on firearms, which he described as one of his "core convictions" in life.
“Our rights come to us from God, not lawmakers," Scalise, R-Jefferson, said to applause.
He said without his armed Capitol Police officers, who exchanged gunfire with shooter James Hodgkinson and eventually mortally wounded the Illinois man, “he would have taken every single one of us out.”
“They stopped him," Scalise said.
The NRA event comes after Scalise, 53, grew a national profile while recovering from the gunshot he took in the hip when Hodgkinson opened fire on Republicans as they practiced for the annual congressional baseball game in June 2017.
The congressman has written a book, appeared on television regularly and been the featured guest of GOP fundraising events across the country.
Doctors said Scalise was in "imminent risk of death" when he was airlifted to a Washington hospital with massive blood loss and significant damage to bones and internal organs.
Scalise's NRA speech immediately followed President Donald Trump's NRA address. In his own remarks, Trump, who has built a close relationship with Scalise, called him “a man with more courage than most of us here today.”
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“He took some very severe shots by a madman,” Trump told the crowd.
Trump also joked about their backstage banter: “I told (Scalise), ‘You’re much more handsome than you were two years ago.’”
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Just before Scalise and Trump took the stage, a former congressman from Arizona who also barely survived a targeted gun attack criticized the president for entertaining the NRA.
Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head outside of a Tuscon supermarket while meeting with constituents in an assassination attempt in 2007 and, in a contrast to Scalise, has become a prominent advocate for tighter gun restrictions after her recovery.
“We should all be outraged that Donald Trump has allowed his presidency to be bought and paid for by gun lobbyists,” Giffords, a Democrat, said. “As a result, the threats to our kids and our communities remain unaddressed. America deserves a president with the courage to stand up to the NRA’s leadership and do everything in his or her power to stop a crisis that’s impacting every family, causing heartbreak in every community, and devastating the nation.”
She didn't directly address Scalise's appearance, despite their shared experience of surviving a mass shooting while in office.
During his 20-minute address, Scalise criticized Democrats who have taken control of the House after the last election cycle, praised Trump and told stories about his pro-gun rights actions.
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He recounted how, as a state House member in 1999, he successfully pushed legislation in Louisiana to protect firearms manufacturers and sellers from liability when a weapon is unlawfully used. At the time, several cities, including New Orleans, were eyeing civil lawsuits as a method of curtailing gun violence. Actor Charlton Heston, then head of the NRA, testified at the State Capitol in favor of Scalise's bill.
“Our gun rights are, once again, under attack,” Scalise told Friday's crowd, arguing that a shift in the U.S. Supreme Court could sway future decisions on access to firearms.