A US congressman said he pulled out a loaded Smith & Wesson pistol during a meeting with gun control activists on Friday in a bid to prove that firearms were not responsible for violence.
House Republican Ralph Norman of South Carolina told The Post and Courier newspaper that he drew the handgun and placed it on a table while at a "Coffee With Your Congressman" event at a diner, in an attempt to convey that guns are only dangerous if in the wrong hands.
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"I’m not going to be a Gabby Giffords," said Norman, 64, referring to the former congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in the head during a meet-and-greet outside a grocery store in 2011.
Giffords was gravely wounded in that attack. She survived and became a prominent gun safety advocate. Both Giffords and her husband, retired Nasa astronaut Mark Kelly, are longtime gun owners.
"Americans are increasingly faced with a stark choice: leaders like Gabby, who work hard together to find solutions to problems, or extremists like the NRA and Congressman Norman, who rely on intimidation tactics and perpetuating fear," Kelly said in a statement.
"If we want to protect our kids and communities, Congress must get serious about passing safer gun laws. For our kids’ sake, let’s show our leaders we expect them to behave more like Gabby and less like Congressman Norman."
The paper said Norman also claimed: "I don’t mind dying… But whoever shoots me better shoot well or I’m shooting back."
Norman’s indelicate reference to Giffords appeared to suggest that her debilitating injury was in some way due to her not being adequately armed.
The congressman later issued a statement saying he is a concealed carry permit holder and regularly brings his gun with him when in public.
"Mental health, and more importantly, a lack of morality is the driving force behind this epidemic. Guns are not the problem," he said, adding that he had responded appropriately to questions by "a group of organised anti-gun activists."
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The incident came as Americans debate the prospect of Congress passing new gun safety laws in the wake of several mass shootings, including a February massacre at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead.
Last year during his unsuccessful US Senate campaign, former judge Roy Moore of Alabama drew a pistol from his pocket while on stage at a rally as a way to show the Republican candidate’s commitment to the constitutional right to bear arms.