A conversation with Congressman Jim Himes, who is sick of the bullshit.
On Monday afternoon, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), took to the floor of the House to address the shootings in Orlando. Unlike many of his colleagues in Congress, Himes said, he would not be participating in any moment of silence for the victims.
“Silence. That is how the leadership of the most powerful country in the world will respond to this week’s massacre of its citizens,” Himes said, before listing off the names of a few of the many victims whose lives were cut short “by a madman with a military rifle.”
The approach marked a sharp turn for Himes, who says he’s not typically given to using such inflammatory and morality-based language. But this time, like many of us around the country, he says he’s had enough. I spoke with Himes by phone moments after he finished addressing his colleagues in the House.
How was your statement perceived?
Well, there aren’t many people here today. But I’m sure this will be characterized as something that it’s not, as another installment in people who want to take away your guns. And it’s not, because I actually support Second Amendment rights, I like recreational shooting. But, I got thinking about it yesterday, and my stomach turned thinking about these moments of silence. To me, it’s perfectly emblematic of utter inaction and gross negligence of the Congress. When 50 people are dead on slabs in Florida, what we’ve got is 26 seconds of silence for you. That’s just unconscionable. There’s sort of a faux-sanctity to it, by putting on my serious face, looking like I care, and being silent for 15 seconds, that that is somehow a contribution. We have a lot of tough issues. We’re never going to solve the abortion thing, we’re never going to solve the taxes thing, or when we go to war. But here’s an area, where the vast majority of gun owners, not just Americans, agree on a set of measures that will keep a lot of people alive. But no. We’ve got silence.
“There’s sort of a faux-sanctity to it, by putting on my serious face, looking like I care, and being silent for 15 seconds.”
Have we gone mad as a country? Why can’t we get anything done here?
My perception is that groups like the NRA have used the Tea Party movement to create kind of a cult of guns, where you believe you’ve got a liberal Harvard Law Review president that is hellbent on taking away your guns to fulfill his Islamic fantasies. If not Islamic, government takeover fantasies. And that caused people to believe things that are patently not true. Like the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. There was a good guy with a gun in Orlando and it didn’t work. Or it causes people to believe, as an untrained software developer, you’re actually going to be safer armed in your own house than if you don’t have a gun in your house. It’s objectively provable that that’s not true, but there is this cult. People like Wayne LaPierre, 10 seconds into his speech, slamming this president, creating this bullshit argument that Washington is intent on taking away their guns. And a lot of people have bought into that. My Republican colleagues for the most part are decent people, but they’re scared of that cult.
Being from Connecticut, you’re sensitive to this. But something people have been saying is that if we didn’t do anything after Sandy Hook, then we never will.
Well, I’m not willing to say never. One of these reasons I’m taking the stand on these moments of silence, and doing something I don’t normally do, which is speaking in moral language, is that we’ve just got to change the dialogue. If you have to talk about judgment and God to get the attention of people who are more comfortable in that realm, then let’s do it. Let’s really talk about whether Jesus Christ thinks that the answer is a good guy with a gun. But we say this time and again. Change doesn’t come fast. If we’d given up on Civil Rights in 1964 where would we be?
How do you feel Connecticut’s state laws stack up to the rest of the country in terms of guns?
Well to their credit, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, they actually passed exactly the type of passage I’m talking about, and passed some thoughtful gun safety rules. I think they’re pretty tough, like New York. But at the end of the day, when you can be in Virginia at one o’clock and Connecticut at four o’clock, you got to deal with the federal level.
You’ve spoken out against the opioid epidemic as well. Do you see parallels? Are we addicted to guns?
This points to another absurdity. Medical professionals want us to think about it that way. They want us to really study who gets killed, how, what are the circumstances. Always a good idea, since about the year 1400, to gather the facts. But of course Congress has said, no, we will not gather the facts.
They’re prevented from studying it.
Exactly. So maybe there is a parallel to be drawn with addiction, in as much Congress is very much in the phase of not understanding it has a problem.
This is something I don’t understand. Last year, the NRA spent something like 28 million dollars lobbying on the federal level. But if you break it down by each lawmaker, it’s not really all that much money, a few thousand here and there. You’re a congressman, is that how cheap it is buy someone’s loyalty?
No. I think the NRA is more powerful as a purveyor of insane falsehoods than it is as a donor to individual members of Congress. It matters a little, but, but I think my colleagues are more scared of being primaried by a rootin’ tootin’ gun absolutist than they are having their opponent getting $5,000 from the NRA.
People say, “Oh, so you’re going to take all our guns? Obama is coming to take our guns.” Which, by the way, he’s really waiting ’till the last minute here on that plan. You figure he would’ve done it by now.
Right! I mean the insanity.… I remember my first Congress, 2009 through 2011, he had exactly one piece of gun legislation, which was a bill to allow you to carry a gun in a national park, so it actually loosened things. But there’s Wayne LaPiere saying what he does.
What if we said no more high capacity magazines? No more military-style weapons? Is that a compromised place where we can start?
Yes. Look, this isn’t that complicated. As much as there are things like limits on capacity of magazines, the kinds of guns, universal background checks. There are four or five things that have broad support in the American population. Are they going to end gun violence? Of course not. But if this crazy, radicalized guy hadn’t been so able to go buy a military weapon, despite the fact that he’d been interviewed a couple of times by the FBI, I think a lot of people would be alive this morning. We’re not going to solve this thing, but we can do some things that a lot of people support that can save lives. And that’s why we need to talk about these things in moral terms