WASHINGTON -- A Republican candidate for Congress said he sometimes carries a gun to the Iowa Statehouse because of the 2011 attack on former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.).
Brad Zaun, a state senator from Urbandale, was asked during a GOP primary debate on Tuesday about his revelation earlier this month that he occasionally carries a 9 mm handgun while working in the Senate chamber.
"Why did you feel the need to pack heat at the Statehouse, and where else have you taken the gun with you?" the moderator asked. "Do you have one with you tonight?"
Zaun said he did not bring a firearm with him to the debate, adding that the matter is "really nobody's business."
He went on to explain that he has a concealed carry permit and has practiced firing his weapon with professionals at a shooting range. It was then that Zaun referred to the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, as his reason for carrying a gun. Giffords, then a member of Congress, was targeted and severely wounded in the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting, which left six people dead and 14 injured.
"Why do I do that? Because of what happened in Arizona," Zaun said. "If you're a public servant, you've got a target on your back. And I've had many threats from individuals that I have worked with the state patrol on, and I am going to defend myself."
"I think it's my right to do that," he added. "I will fight for our Second Amendment rights if I'm elected to Washington, D.C. I just believe that a law-abiding citizen should have the right to do that."
Zaun claimed that while Iowa law prohibits members of the public from carrying dangerous weapons into the Capitol, the restrictions do not apply to lawmakers.
"All the law-abiding people go through the metal detectors, but there's many exits [where] there's no security," he said.
Watch Zaun's response above.
Michael Marshall, Iowa's secretary of the Senate, told The Des Moines Register that "the General Assembly has not exempted any of its members or its staff" from the rules that bar individuals from carrying a dangerous weapon in Capitol complex buildings.
Zaun has spoken before about carrying a firearm, not only to the Statehouse but also while on the campaign trail, and this isn't the first time he's cited the Tucson shooting as justification for doing so. It's a line of reasoning that appears to be closely related to the pro-gun argument that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
But if anything, the shooting in Tucson highlighted one of the major flaws of that argument. Joe Zamudio, who would have been the "good guy with a gun" in this scenario, actually came within seconds of shooting the wrong person.
Zamudio, who was armed at the time of the shooting, was at a nearby Walgreens when he heard the shots and ran outside. He saw a man holding a gun and immediately thought it was the shooter, but in fact that man had actually pinned down the shooter and taken away his gun.
Zamudio recalled the moment during an interview with "Fox & Friends" days after the shooting. "Had you shot that guy, it would have been a big, fat mess," the interviewer said.
"I was very lucky. Honestly, it was a matter of seconds," Zamudio replied. "Two, maybe three seconds between when I came through the doorway and when I was laying on top of [the real shooter], holding him down. So, I mean, in that short amount of time I made a lot of really big decisions really fast [...] I was really lucky."
Zamudio added that he did not have any professional weapons training. "I just reacted," he said.
Giffords herself has stated that the "good guy with a gun" theory "doesn't work," and her husband Mark Kelly has specifically used Zamudio's example to illustrate why. The couple, who have said they are pro-gun ownership, even launched Americans for Responsible Solutions, a super PAC to combat gun violence, in 2013.
Zaun has insisted he's not alone, and that several state lawmakers in Iowa carry guns to the House and Senate. At least one other Republican, Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst, has admitted to carrying a gun in her purse "90 percent of the time," although she has not indicated whether that includes her time at the Capitol.
Notably, a wide-ranging bill signed into law in Georgia earlier this year, dubbed the "guns everywhere bill," allowed guns in almost every public space in that state except the Capitol.
Zaun is one of six candidates vying for the Republican nomination in a primary contest in Iowa's 3rd District race. The candidate who receives the nomination on June 3 will face Democrat Staci Appel, a former state senator, to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Tom Latham.