For several members of the House, the gun violence epidemic is personal.
The dynamic came into full view this week as the House Judiciary Committee engaged in an emotional debate over legislation to ban high-capacity magazines and prevent potentially dangerous people from having guns following a string of mass shootings this summer.
Two Democrats on the committee have lost family members to gun violence. And three others represent districts where their constituents were gunned down in recent high-profile mass shootings.
Rep. Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence House panel advances anti-gun violence legislation Jon Ossoff launching Georgia Senate campaign MORE (D-Ga.) lost her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, in 2012 when he was shot at a gas station after an argument over loud music.
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-PowellDebbie Mucarsel-PowellGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence Democrats race against clock with push for impeachment Wave of GOP retirements threatens 2020 comeback MORE’s (D-Fla.) father was shot and killed two decades ago in Ecuador, where she grew up before immigrating to the U.S.
Then there are the lawmakers who represent communities still reeling from recent massacres.
Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence House panel advances anti-gun violence legislation Gun debate to shape 2020 races MORE (D-Fla.), who authored the bill approved by the Judiciary Committee banning magazines with capacities of more than 10 rounds of ammunition, represents Parkland, where 17 people died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year.
Rep. Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence House holds moment of silence for El Paso victims House Republicans want details on Democrats’ trips to Mexico MORE (D-Texas) represents El Paso, where a gunman killed 22 people at a Walmart last month. And Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence House Democrats demand administration consult with Congress before determining refugee admissions Lobbying World MORE’s (D-Calif.) district includes Gilroy, where three people and the suspect died at a garlic festival in late July.
Still others, including Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence Trump officials say children of some service members overseas will not get automatic citizenship Trump takes post-Mueller victory lap MORE (D-Fla.), represent communities such Orlando where high-profile mass shootings occurred but weren’t in Congress at the time.
Debates over gun control bills aren’t just theoretical for these lawmakers. They can argue how such proposals could have made a difference in their own experiences.
For some, advocating for legislation is a way to address their lingering grief resulting from gun violence.
Mucarsel-Powell was 24 and got pulled out of class for her master’s degree when she learned in a phone call that her father had been shot.
“When you get that phone call that someone you love, someone that you just spoke with, was shot and was taken from you in such a violent way, that feeling never goes away,” Mucarsel-Powell told The Hill. “He never got to meet my children. He didn’t walk me down the aisle. It’s a pain that’s there all the time.”
That pain, Mucarsel-Powell said, makes her feel even more obligated to try to change gun laws to help others avoid what went she went through.
“I think what happens is that you become even more firm in trying to obtain justice for those victims of gun violence and the sense of responsibility that there are things that we can do, there are laws that we can pass,” Mucarsel-Powell said.
McBath, who like Mucarsel-Powell flipped a GOP-held seat last fall, became a gun control activist after her son’s death.
She made a point of invoking the pain of losing her teenage son during this week’s Judiciary Committee markup of three gun control bills to encourage states to adopt “red flag” laws to prevent people considered a threat to themselves or others from having guns, banning high-capacity magazines and prohibiting people convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from having guns.
“Nearly 100 people every single day die in this country as a result of gun violence, and yes, I will never let you forget that my son Jordan was one of them,” McBath said in impassioned remarks. “I know the pain of losing a child to gun violence. And not anyone in this room, anyone in this country, should ever be faced with that pain.”
The House GOP campaign arm has tried to turn McBath’s gun control advocacy against her in her once reliably red suburban Atlanta district.
In August, the National Republican Congressional Committee accused McBath of politicizing the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, by sending fundraising solicitations.
McBath fired back, arguing that she was simply advocating for a key part of her platform.
“My son was shot and killed in 2012, and I will not apologize for leading the fight on gun safety,” McBath said.
Deutch and Lofgren, meanwhile, made the case for legislation to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines by pointing to what unfolded in their districts.
Law enforcement recovered eight 30- and 40-round capacity magazines from the scene in Parkland, according to a state commission report on the shooting. Deutch noted that the shooter fired more than 150 rounds in six minutes.
“We know that seconds mattered in those hallways. Students ran down those hallways desperate for safety, and we know that seconds could have made a difference. If this gunman was limited to 10-round magazines, some of those students may have survived that horrible day,” Deutch said.
Lofgren added that the shooter at the Gilroy Garlic Festival also had high-capacity magazines, which are banned in California. But she noted that the suspect had legally bought his weapon across state lines in Nevada.
“That makes so clear why we need a nationwide law to protect people,” Lofgren said.
“Because of the nature of his weapon, he was able to kill three people and injure 17 others. It really bothers me when I hear people say, ‘Well, it wouldn’t solve the problem.’ Yes, it would,” Lofgren said.
And during the debate over another bill to prevent people convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from having guns, Escobar took issue when Republicans expressed concern that its definition of a misdemeanor hate crime was too vague and that it would apply retroactively to such convictions.
“My people, my community has been targeted. We have had a target placed on our back because of the color of our skin. The day that your folks are massacred, then I can be lectured about hate crimes, and how we should dismiss them, and how they are meaningless,” Escobar said.
Conversely, GOP members of the committee who also represent districts where mass shootings occurred have used their cases as examples of why Democrats’ bills wouldn’t work in practice.
During the Judiciary Committee’s consideration of legislation to expand background checks earlier this year, Rep. Greg SteubeWilliam (Greg) Gregory SteubeGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence GOP lawmakers call for provisions barring DOD funds for border wall to be dropped Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess MORE (R) noted that a gunman who killed five people in his district in Sebring, Fla., in January was able to buy a gun in the days before the shooting.
“Clearly, the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee don’t care about preventing gun violence. They simply are playing politics with Americans’ Second Amendment rights,” Steube said.
But facing a mass shooting in the district has led to a change of heart for at least one Republican: Rep. Michael Turner (R), who represents Dayton, where a shooter killed nine people last month.
Turner, who does not serve on the Judiciary panel, subsequently announced that he would support banning military-style weapons sales, enacting limits on ammunition magazines and passing “red flag” legislation. He has not co-sponsored any of the bills advanced out of the Judiciary Committee this week, however.
Turner led a moment of silence on the House floor this week in memory of the victims and to salute the police officers who responded to the scene.
“We need to show the courage of these police officers. Let’s work together to pass bipartisan bills that actually have a likelihood of becoming law and making our country safer,” Turner said.