Republican Rep. Ralph Norman pulled out his loaded, personal .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun Friday and laid it on the table at a diner where he was meeting with his constituents in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Norman told CNN he wanted to make a point in the debate over gun violence.
“I merely proved a point that guns themselves are not the issue,” he said.
Norman said that having a loaded gun in the room should, if anything, have made people feel more safe.
“Given the scenario that if someone had walked into that diner and began to fire a weapon, I told them I would be able to defend myself and them as well,” he explained.
“I’m not going to be a Gabby Giffords,” Norman told the newspaper, referring to the Democratic former congresswoman from Arizona who was shot at a constituent gathering in her district in 2011. “I don’t mind dying, but whoever shoots me better shoot well or I’m shooting back.”
In a statement to CNN provided by his communications director, Norman added: “Mental health, and more importantly, a lack of morality, is the driving force behind this epidemic. Guns are not the problem.”
At least one of Norman’s constituents present at the meeting took issue with his actions.
“Rep. Norman’s behavior today was a far cry from what responsible gun ownership looks like,” Lori Freemon said in a statement released by Everytown, the gun-control organization for which she volunteers.
“I had looked forward to a respectful dialogue with my representative about common-sense gun violence prevention policies,” the statement said. “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.”
Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake tweeted early Saturday morning that he thought Norman’s remarks about Giffords were inappropriate.
“I sincerely hope you never have to experience what my friend @gabbygiffords experienced,” Flake 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.”