GOP Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, one of the biggest recipients of funding from gun lobbyists, drew a farcical parallel on Wednesday between enacting gun control measures after mass shootings and banning airplanes after the 9/11 attacks.
“Airplanes were used that day as the weapon to kill thousands of people and to inflict terror on our country. There wasn’t a conversation about banning airplanes,” the member of House Republican leadership said, pushing back against Democrats’ efforts to pass gun safety legislation in the wake of a gunman slaughtering 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas.
Scalise isn’t making the clever comparison that he thinks he is.
There is no effort in Congress to ban guns. Democrats are trying to pass legislation that includes expanding background checks during firearm transactions, establishing “red flag” laws that allow for the temporary removal of guns from people deemed a risk to themselves or others, and raising the age to purchase some semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21.
Those are all measures designed to keep guns out of the hands of people planning attacks ― sort of like how lawmakers acted after 9/11 to keep planes out of reach from people planning attacks.
Within two months of 9/11, Congress recognized the weaknesses in air travel security procedures and approved the creation of the Transportation Security Administration. That new agency, TSA, went on to establish dozens of new security measures, including screening all luggage with 3D-imaging X-ray machines, sending passengers through full-body scanners, banning knives on board aircrafts and reinforcing cockpit doors.
“There was a conversation about connecting the dots,” Scalise recalled Wednesday of the days following 9/11. “How can we try to figure out if there are signs we can see to stop the next attack from happening? And some people might have thought that wasn’t possible. And yet, because Congress came together and focused on the root cause of the problem, thank God we have been able to stop other attacks on our homeland.”
The root cause of the U.S.’s high number of mass shootings, extensive evidence shows, is the colossal number of guns on American soil coupled with flimsy restrictions on who can buy firearms and what kind can be sold. When examined globally, the only consistent factor positively associated with higher rates of mass shootings is a higher rate of gun ownership.
Scalise didn’t mention that after 9/11, the entire airspaces of the United States and Canada were shut down for more than a day. By the logic he espoused Wednesday, all gun sales should pause after mass shootings.
There’s also the fact that airplanes are designed as means of mass transportation, unlike assault weapons, which are designed to assault. American deaths from gun violence dwarf those from airplane and terrorist incidents combined. In 2020, there were 696 mass shootings ― defined as incidents in which four or more people are shot ― resulting in 661 deaths. The U.S. has not seen a single death from a commercial airline crash in over a decade.
Scalise made his remarks the same day several parents of people killed and injured in the recent slew of mass shootings testified before the House Oversight Committee with pleas for swift action on gun control.
“If after hearing from me and the other people testifying here today does not move you to act on gun laws, I invite you to my home to help me to clean Zaire’s wounds so that you may see up close the damage that has been caused to my son and my community,” Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman was injured in last month’s Buffalo shooting, told lawmakers.