After a weekend of gun violence during which 31 people were killed in mass shootings, Rep. Rob Wittman says he now supports strengthening gun background checks, an apparent shift for the congressman who has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association.
“I support strengthening our National Instant Criminal Background Check System. We must have a constructive conversation about how to put a stop to these mass shootings while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens,” Wittman, R-1st, said in an email.
Wittman’s statement came in response to back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, on Saturday, Aug. 3 and 4. The El Paso shooter, who targeted Hispanic shoppers at a Wal-Mart, killing 22 and injuring dozens more, was armed with an AK-47 assault-style rifle.
The Dayton, Ohio, shooter used a .223-caliber, high-capacity rifle technically classified as pistol to kill nine people and injure 27 at a restaurant. The shooter’s rampage lasted only 30 seconds before he was shot and killed by police.
“I am deeply disturbed by these senseless and heart-wrenching tragedies. I remain extremely concerned about gun violence, and I believe it is absolutely critical that we continue working to address this problem. We must be focused on preventing criminals from acquiring firearms in the first place, addressing the behavior that leads to this violence and preventing future acts of violence,” Wittman said.
Wittman is the only Republican member of Congress representing Prince William County, which is split between three House districts: the 1st, 10th and 11th. U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton and U.S. Rep. Gerald Connolly, both Democrats, represent the 10th and 11th districts, respectively.
Wittman voted against two House bills earlier this year, H.R. 8 and H.R. 1112, that sought to strengthen firearm background checks. Both bills passed the House mostly along party lines and are awaiting a vote in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, says the Senate will address gun background checks this fall.
Wittman was strongly opposed to gun reforms introduced by President Barack Obama (D) in 2015 in the wake of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 and injured 22. Those reforms included strengthening gun background checks and closing the gun show loophole.
“Limiting our constitutionally guaranteed rights is never the answer. That is why it’s so important for us to affirmatively protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” Wittman said at the time. “I promise I will fight with everything I have and use every opportunity available to counter these executive overreaches by the president that limit the fundamental liberties and freedoms guaranteed to us under the United States Constitution.”
Virginia’s 1st Congressional District stretches from Prince William County through the Eastern Shore, covering parts of 20 counties. More than 117,000 Prince William County voters reside in the 1st District.
President Donald Trump has said he wants stronger background checks for guns following the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, putting pressure on Republicans to follow suit.
“Serious discussions are taking place between House and Senate leadership on meaningful Background Checks. I have also been speaking to the NRA, and others, so that their very strong views can be fully represented and respected,” Trump said in a tweet.
Trump has made similar statements in the past, including after the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. Trump backed away from his support for gun reforms after a meeting with National Rifle Association officials in the Oval Office.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, who has long opposed gun reforms, said expanding background checks and “red flag” laws will be discussed in the Senate following August recess.
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