Russell locks horns with president over gun control
FBI stats show violent crimes down last two years
OKLAHOMA CITY – The terrorist shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., prompted U.S. Rep. Steve Russell to deliver a strong pro-gun message 48 hours before President Barack Obama demanded tougher gun control laws.
During a Friday evening interview, Russell told Red Dirt Report, “Now is not the time to talk about disarming our citizens or the terrorists win.”
Russell contends terrorist acts are occurred at “soft targets” where victims are not allowed to defend themselves with guns.
“We’re not having these episodes in Dallas or Oklahoma,” he said. “We have a God-given right to keep and bear arms just like having a free press or religious liberty. ISIS is for disarming America. Even when these incidents do happen in places like Oklahoma City such as the woman who was beheaded, the owner of the business used his shotgun to shoot the assailant. It could have been much worse.”
On Sunday, the president called for stricter gun control laws and eliminating the sale of assault rifles to the general public. Obama said it is too easy for people who want to harm Americans to buy these types of guns.
“Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon? This is a matter of national security,” the president said.
Obama said it should be more difficult to buy powerful assault weapons like those used in the San Bernardino attacks that killed 14 people.
After the president’s speech, Russell issued a comment on Facebook.
“While I applaud the president for finally calling out a ‘dangerous ideology that has spread through Islam as a cult of death,’ I am saddened that he called on Congress to take away the right of our citizens to defend themselves; has asked for authorization on the use of force he already has; and is tightening visa waivers only after Congress has pressured him to do so,” he said.
Russell understands the pressure mass killings create for elected officials and the call for action by those who support gun control.
“The impact of this violence is more heightened than at any time in history,” he said. “If you look at the gun death statistics, you’ll see that number is down if you exclude suicides.”
Despite popular opinion, gun violence is not increasing. FBI crime statistics show that gun violence was higher 20 years ago. The FBI reported in 2014 that the figure for gun background checks – 21,093,273 – hit a record level for 2013. At the same time, violent crimes in 2013 dropped 4.4 percent when compared with 2012 numbers. The FBI also reported the violent crime rate for 2014 dropped 1 percent.
Russell also was disappointed Obama did not speak about a way to accommodate the “disenfranchised Sunni-Arab in the diplomatic effort.”
“While I appreciate the president’s strong statements on combatting discrimination and no religious tests for which Americans should have our liberties, I am not encouraged that the president has a capable strategy to defeat ISIS or protect the American people,” Russell said through his statement on Facebook.
Democrats have proposed a universal background check on potential gun owners, but Russell countered that policy already exists.
“This is really about more gun control,” the congressman said. “They don’t want more background checks. They want our guns. A terrorist won’t pass a background check anyway.”
Refugees, visa waivers
During Friday’s interview with Red Dirt Report, Russell said the controversial refugee issue is narrow in scope because there are fewer refugees than immigrants.
“There is a huge difference between refugees and people immigrating to America,” he said.
Russell made those comments based on remarks governors from 30 states have made in connection with Syrian refugees fleeing that war-torn country. Several governors, Republicans and Democrats, have vowed to stop Syrian refugees from relocating in their states. However, some governors have backed down since states have no control over the federal government’s refugee relocation program.
Some of the controversy could be settled once Congress and the president agree to provisions in a visa waiver program, which is used by 38 other countries.
“Residents from those other countries can come to the U.S. for 90 days, but you have to be able to meet certain higher standards such as the biometric passports Great Britain uses. Application standards would be higher as well. It’s one of those things you have to meet to come to the U.S,” Russell said.
Russell also defended a House vote he switched in connection with a refugee issue known as the SAFE Act which would clamp down on Syrian refugees entering the U.S. After giving an impassioned speech on the House floor that condemned the xenophobic attitude of congressman, Russell voted against the bill.
Later, Russell switched his vote in favor of the bill after being surrounded by his colleagues who assured him his vote would give the bill a veto-proof majority. Before changing his vote, Russell demanded “a seat at the table on all future discussions on this issue.”
Russell told Red Dirt Report the SAFE Act will not be the final legislation and that the veto-proof majority will provide the House with leverage when negotiating with the Senate.
Russell is now a member of a bipartisan refugee task force that is developing recommendations which should be submitted in January to the full House. Russell, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served for more than 20 years, gave the example of an Iraqi interpreter who served with the U.S. military as a potential refugee.
“We don’t want to turn away interpreters who worked with U.S. special ops,” he said. “We need to be standing on principles that we do the right thing for the republic.”
Oil and Turkey
Media reports have suggested recently that ISIS-controlled oil is being shipped from Turkish ports, but Russell doesn’t believe officials in that country are condoning those actions.
“Is there black marketeering going on? Absolutely. There is a 100-mile segment along the border that is open. But I think it’s unfair to suggest that it’s being endorsed by our NATO ally Turkey,” he said.