A South Carolina Republican pulled out a loaded handgun during a meeting with constituents on Friday, in an attempt to make a point that guns are dangerous only in the hands of criminals.
One campaigner for gun reform who was present at the “coffee with constituents” meeting called the US representative Ralph Norman’s actions “a far cry from what responsible gun ownership looks like”.
According to local news reports, Norman placed the .38-caliber gun on a table and said: “I’m not going to be a Gabby Giffords.” He was referring to a former Democratic Arizona congresswoman who was shot outside a grocery store during a constituent gathering in 2011.
Giffords’ husband, retired Nasa astronaut Mark Kelly, said in a statement that Norman was “no Gabby Giffords” and noted that his wife has dedicated her life to ending gun violence.
“Americans are increasingly faced with a stark choice: leaders like Gabby, who work hard together to find solutions to problems, or extremists like the [National Rifle Association] and Congressman Norman, who rely on intimidation tactics and perpetuating fear,” Kelly said.
Jeff Flake, a Republican Arizona senator, addressed Norman on Twitter. “I sincerely hope you never have to experience what my friend [Giffords] experienced,” he wrote. “But to suggest that she might have avoided being shot had she carried a weapon as she spoke to constituents that morning is inappropriate and inconsiderate.”
Norman said he would display his gun again. “I’m tired of these liberals jumping on the guns themselves as if they are the cause of the problem,” he told the Post and Courier. “Guns are not the problem.”
Lori Carter, a schoolteacher from Charlotte, North Carolina, said she thought Norman’s actions were contradictory because Norman did not know if someone at the meeting had mental health issues.
“What was to prevent me from leaning across the table to take that gun?” she asked.
Lori Freemon, a volunteer with the South Carolina chapter of the pressure group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, was at the meeting.
In a statement, she said Norman’s “behavior today was a far cry from what responsible gun ownership looks like. I had looked forward to a respectful dialogue with my representative about common-sense gun violence prevention policies. Instead, I felt unsafe when he insisted on showing us his loaded gun and keeping it out on the table for much of our conversation.”
Three Republican South Carolina state lawmakers, meanwhile, introduced a bill on Thursday that would allow the state legislature to debate secession from the US if the federal government confiscated legally purchased firearms in the state.
The measure has no real chance of passage in the current session. The deadline for bills to move from one chamber to the other is 10 April.
South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union over slavery in the run-up to the civil war, withdrawing in December 1860. The first shots of the war were fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor in January 1861.