During a meeting with constituents Friday, Republican Rep. Ralph Norman pulled out a loaded gun in an attempt to show that guns are only dangerous when criminals have them. Norman kept his .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun in full view of his constituents for several minutes, he told the Post and Courier, and said afterwards that he's "not going to be a Gabby Giffords," a reference to the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head in 2011.
"I don't mind dying," the first-term lawmaker later told the Post & Courier, "but whoever shoots me better shoot well or I'm shooting back."
Norman reportedly "kept telling his constituents that the presence of the gun made them safer," a gun control group whose members were in attendance later said in a statement. But two people who attended the meeting expressed discomfort at Norman's decision to display a loaded weapon at the "coffee with constituents" meeting, which was intended to address gun violence.
"I had looked forward to a respectful dialogue with my representative about common-sense gun violence prevention policies," Lori Freemon, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told the Post and Courier. "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.” She added that Norman's actions were "a far cry from what responsible gun ownership looks like."
Norman explained to his constituents that if somebody walked into the diner where the meeting was being held and started shooting, he'd be able to protect innocent attendees with his handgun. He later told the Post and Courier that "guns don't shoot people, people shoot guns," and claimed that none of the attendees could have been afraid of the gun, because he didn't see anybody jump when they saw it.
But Lori Carter, who also attended the meeting, believed that it was irresponsible and dangerous for Norman to place a loaded gun on a table while addressing constituents in public.
"He chose to take the gun out and put it on the table not knowing if any of us had mental health issues," Carter, a public school teacher, told the Post and Courier. "What was to prevent me from leaning across the table to take that gun? So to me, it was contradictory."
Nevertheless, Norman told the Post and Courier that he plans to keep bringing his gun to constituent meetings. He added that he has a concealed carry permit and often brings his handgun with him in public.
To some, Norman's claim that he brought his gun because he's "not going to be a Gabby Giffords" implied that Giffords, who was at a constituent meeting when a lone gunman shot her and 18 others, became a victim of gun violence because she wasn't adequately prepared. Giffords miraculously survived that bullet to the head, however and later formed an advocacy group to fight gun violence.
Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, responded to the comments later in the day, comparing Norman unfavorably to his wife and and accused him of intimidating his own constituents.
"When I think of @GabbyGiffords, I think of courage and public service, not intimidating constituents," Mark Kelly wrote on Twitter. "You’re no Gabby, @RepRalphNorman. You pull out a gun when you are prepared and need to use it – not for a stunt."
Gun violence in South Carolina has steadily been rising for the better part of a decade, according to an earlier report in the Post and Courier, with the number of gun homicides per 10,000 residents jumping from 5.7 in 2007 to 7.4 in 2015.