WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Collins said Monday that he will carry a gun while traveling in his district not only to protect himself, but also to protect his constituents.
"I owe it to the people in my community, God help me, to try to stop a threat to their safety, should it ever occur because of my presence," Collins, R-Clarence, wrote in an op-ed published on the Washington Post's website.
In the op-ed, the Clarence Republican provided further details on a decision he announced on WBEN radio last week.
Collins first said last week that he would be carrying a gun after the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and several others at a Republican congressional baseball team practice in Alexandria, Va.
Noting his longtime support for the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, Collins wrote: "For my own protection, and for the protection of those around me, I’m putting these values into practice. Now, more than ever, I truly believe that the best place to be, during a terrible episode like the one in Alexandria, is next to a good guy with a gun."
That incident, Collins wrote, illustrates the dangers that members of Congress and those around them face.
"After what we saw last week, it’s clear we need to do more to make sure that we’re protected," he wrote.
As a member of House leadership, Scalise has a security team made up of Capitol Police officers. The security team shot the shooter, James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Ill., who later died.
Providing security for all 535 members of Congress would be "a tremendous undertaking" and would limit the interaction that lawmakers have with their constituents, Collins said.
That being the case, he said he favors taking matters into his own hands.
"When I hear concerns from loved ones, friends and constituents fearing for our safety, my instinct isn’t just to rely on law enforcement," he wrote. "Capitol Police officers were heroes last week — their bravery and quick thinking probably saved the lives of Scalise and my other colleagues — but self-defense is my responsibility, too."
Collins said he learned responsible gun ownership from his father and has had a concealed-carry permit for years. He previously said he would keep his gun in his glove compartment on occasion, but now has decided to carry the weapon more often.
Collins' decision is a controversial one. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo – who has clashed with Collins over health care and other issues – lambasted the congressman's decision last week on a trip to the Finger Lakes.
“It should concern everyone,” Cuomo said. “No, the answer isn’t carry a gun. The answer is tone down your rhetoric and act like a leader, and bring people together, and stop fanning the flames of hate. That’s the answer. The answer is create an atmosphere where you don’t need a gun.”
Collins – who initially appeared to blame Democrats for the Scalise shooting – later on the same day said he planned to tone down his rhetoric.
He made that pledge again in his op-ed, saying: "It’s incumbent on all of us to take responsibility for our own words — I’ve reflected on the impact mine can have, and I’ve made a firm commitment to tone things down. I hope that all citizens, including my colleagues in Congress, and the press, will follow suit."
But Cuomo wasn't impressed with Collins' vow last week to control his rhetoric.
“This from a person who uses all sorts of terrible names at me personally,” Cuomo said on Friday, according to a report on his Finger Lakes visit by the NYStateofPolitics website.
In his op-ed, Collins focused first and foremost not on his vow to quiet his rhetoric, but on his promise of self-protection.
"If our democracy is going to work, elected officials have to be able to travel in our communities, whether we’re going to official events or living our everyday lives, going to the supermarket, post office or hardware store," he wrote. "That’s why I plan to take responsibility for my safety, and the safety of those around me."