Gun victim Scalise leads opposition to stricter US laws

US House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who nearly died in a shooting at a congressional baseball practice in 2017, is a fierce opponent of Democratic efforts to tighten the nation's gun laws (AFP Photo/TASOS KATOPODIS) (GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)
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Washington (AFP) - Opposing sides in the US gun debate staked out their positions Wednesday ahead of anticipated White House firearm safety proposals, with a top lawmaker who was nearly shot dead pushing back against reforms.

Congressional Democrats have demanded swift action on issues like expanding background checks to nearly all gun sales, and passing so-called red flag laws allowing authorities to confiscate weapons from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.

President Donald Trump has waffled. Following a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas in August that left 22 people dead, Trump expressed interest in expanding background checks, but has since retreated.

One reform opponent is the number-two House Republican, Steve Scalise, a fierce gun rights advocate despite being gravely wounded in a 2017 shooting at a congressional baseball practice.

"Every time there's a mass shooting, I can tell you firsthand the first thing we all ought to do is pray," he told reporters.

Scalise reprimanded Democrats for rushing to "promote their own gun control agenda" following August's deadly toll, even though most proposals "would have done absolutely nothing to affect the shooting."

Tightening gun laws "would infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens," he said.

Scalise and other Republicans say efforts should focus on enforcement of existing law, not restricting gun rights.

Jenny Beth Martin, head of the Tea Party Patriots that has helped sweep dozens of conservative Republicans into Congress, said she categorically rejects efforts by Democrats or Republicans to "trample on the rights of innocent Americans" regarding firearms.

"We know that gun control, including red flag laws, are wrong -- morally, ethically, and constitutionally," she said.

The Democratically-led House of Representatives passed a landmark background check expansion bill nearly seven months ago, but it has languished in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Congressman Mike Thompson, the Democratic head of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force in Congress, said Americans, particularly children, can wait no longer for action.

"If we wait for a day without gun violence to talk about it, we'll be waiting forever," Thompson told a forum Wednesday.

Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have called for a ban on military-style assault weapons, with ex-congressman Beto O'Rourke advocating a mandatory buyback of such firearms.

Republicans bristle at the idea.

"That is a recipe for destroying this country," warned congressman Thomas Massie.

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