Rep. Chris Collins started planning Saturday's two-hour firearm-safety workshop in Elma three months ago – long before the shooting that injured Rep. Steve Scalise and others shocked the nation last month.
But the injuries suffered by Scalise, the House majority whip from Louisiana, and others at a June 14 Republican congressional baseball practice further crystalized for Collins the nation’s heightened need for responsible gun ownership.
Scalise, who was shot in the hip, suffered life-threatening internal injuries. He underwent another surgery Thursday at a Washington hospital to control an infection and was readmitted to the intensive care unit, according to a New York Times report.
“It does drive the point home: the importance of the Second Amendment,” Collins said Saturday.
Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard, two of Howard’s deputies and trio of agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined Collins at the workshop.
About 40 men and women attended Saturday’s workshop, but Collins said more than twice as many wanted to brush up on gun safety.
By a show of hands, nearly all had permits to carry firearms.
“This is our first one,” Collins said. “We didn’t know what kind of response we would get. Lo and behold, we had 100 people want to come to an event where we can only hold 40.”
Collins added: “That means we’re going to do more of these events.”
The next safety workshop has yet to be announced but staffers said it will likely be elsewhere in the district sometime over the next few months.
Collins talked about a few of the five pistols he owns, including his fathers’ Ithaca 45-caliber and Walther PPK World War II-era handguns.
The Clarence congressman has been a pistol permit holder for more than 30 years and announced after last month's shooting in Arlington that he will carry a gun while traveling in his district not only to protect himself, but also to protect his constituents.
No guns were fired Saturday.
Federal agents and deputies treated those in attendance to a pair of slide-projector lessons about safety and responsible gun ownership, including:
• when the use of deadly physical force is allowable.
• how to keep firearms protected from theft or misuse.
• muzzle presence and situational awareness.
“Always seek more training,” Deputy Don Hoelscher told attendees. “Nobody in this room is the best pistol shooter in the world.”
Federal agents and deputies also shared some of the real-life stories from their careers in public service, including some riveting details by South Buffalo native Steven E. Dickey, who now heads the ATF’s Buffalo Field Office.
Besides assignment at the World Trade Center site in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Dickey was among the agents who hunted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after a shootout with law enforcement that left his brother, Tamerlan, dead.
Dickey stressed that properly securing firearms is one of the most responsible things a gun owner can do.
“The bottom line is the majority of firearms recovered in crimes are originally obtained by legal methods and subsequently end up on the black market and involved in criminal use and activities,” Dickey said.
Dickey advised gun owners to keep a detailed record of all their firearms, including the make, model and serial number.
And, if a legal firearm is ever stolen, report it immediately to police, Dickey said.
Besides working on a congressional bill toward gaining reciprocity between states concerning firearms permitting, Collins said he’s also pushing for legislation for members of Congress and two staff members to be certified with the Capitol Police that would allow them to possess a gun “anywhere it’s legal to carry.”
That proposed exception for members of Congress and their staffers was born from last month’s shooting in Arlington that wounded Scalise.
Also as the result of last month’s shooting, Collins noted Capitol Police were asked to provide security for a recent Republicans-versus-Democrats congressional golf tournament for the first time in its history.
“We’re more cognizant than ever, copycats and so forth, that we need to keep ourselves, staffs and the general public safe,” Collins said. “The awareness is at a totally new heightened level.”