Will Steve Scalise Show James Brady’s Courage?

It couldn’t possibly happen, could it?

It has been just over two weeks since a would-be assassin tried to take the life of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) in Virginia, the first time in six years that a sitting member of Congress has fallen victim to gun violence. Scalise will likely never return to Congress; the damage he has sustained, both physical and psychological, is probably far too great. If he does choose to leave Congress, could he use his voice to try to heal the partisan divide (a partisan divide that, yes, he once contributed to) on guns? Would he risk the scorn of the firearms industry and callous right-wing media entities in order to do so?

If Scalise leaves Congress and begins to lobby his former colleagues to take reasonable steps to keep firearms out of the hands of people as disturbed as the man who tried to assassinate him, there is no guarantee that he’ll get any further than, say, former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) has in terms of convincing his former colleagues to take reasonable steps to fight human-caused climate change. Yet the effort would be worth it, and Scalise would earn international respect even if he didn’t succeed.

Years ago, another Republican earned the world’s admiration by using his voice to call for sense on firearms. Severely injured–along with the President he served–by John Hinckley’s bullets, White House Press Secretary James Brady fought hard to ensure that no family would suffer as he and his family suffered. A decade after both men nearly died, Ronald Reagan cited Brady’s courage and call when he declared:

Jim Brady, my press secretary, who was standing next to me, wasn’t as lucky. A bullet entered the left side of his forehead, near his eye, and passed through the right side of his brain before it exited. The skills of the George Washington University medical team, plus his amazing determination and the grit and spirit of his wife, Sarah, pulled Jim through. His recovery has been remarkable, but he still lives with physical pain every day and must spend much of his time in a wheelchair.

Thomas Delahanty, a Washington police officer, took a bullet in his neck. It ricocheted off his spinal cord. Nerve damage to his left arm forced his retirement in November 1981.

Tim McCarthy, a Secret Service agent, was shot in the chest and suffered a lacerated liver. He recovered and returned to duty.

Still, four lives were changed forever, and all by a Saturday-night special — a cheaply made .22 caliber pistol — purchased in a Dallas pawnshop by a young man with a history of mental disturbance.

This nightmare might never have happened if legislation that is before Congress now — the Brady bill — had been law back in 1981.

Named for Jim Brady, this legislation would establish a national seven-day waiting period before a handgun purchaser could take delivery. It would allow local law enforcement officials to do background checks for criminal records or known histories of mental disturbances. Those with such records would be prohibited from buying the handguns…

Every year, an average of 9,200 Americans are murdered by handguns, according to Department of Justice statistics. This does not include suicides or the tens of thousands of robberies, rapes and assaults committed with handguns.

This level of violence must be stopped. Sarah and Jim Brady are working hard to do that, and I say more power to them. If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land.

Thanks to Brady, Congress finally took some action on guns. The Brady bill didn’t go far enough, but it never would have passed at all were it not for Brady’s moral witness.

It has long been observed that Republicans don’t tend to express empathy regarding social maladies until something catastrophic happens to them, or people they admire. As I’ve noted before, it beggars belief that those who claim Reagan as their role model wouldn’t be permanently galvanized by the 1981 attempt on his life to ensure that another demented individual wouldn’t be able to harm someone they revere with a firearm. You’d figure that after the bullets hit the body of their hero on that horrific March day, they’d vow, “Never again.”

Could Scalise make that vow today? Could Scalise use his power, his own moral witness, to finally convince Republicans that reasonable efforts to keep guns out of the hands of the unhinged are not stealth attempts to nullify the Second Amendment, but an example of “pro-life” values in action? Could Scalise go on Fox News and take to the Wall Street Journal editorial page to rally the right towards responsibility? Could he lead as no Republican since James Brady has?

I’m fighting my own cynicism as I write this. A large part of me thinks the prospect of Scalise trying to touch the conscience of his fellow Republicans on guns is about as likely as Paul Ryan losing his House seat next year. Would Scalise really risk being branded a RINO and turncoat, man? Of course not!

Yet, as the old Carole King song put it, you want to believe in humanity. There has to be something in Scalise’s mind telling him to do the right thing in the aftermath of this horror, something urging him to make sure we never again have another Newtown or Virginia Tech or Charleston or Bronx hospital, something demanding that he use his voice for justice. You have to admit: if he did so, even if he ultimately failed to charge the minds of his fellow Republicans, that would be a textbook example of putting country before party.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.