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New House Speaker Mike Johnson Urges “Prayer” in Response to Mass Shooting

Johnson “puts the gun lobby ahead of public safety every time,” one gun reform group noted.

An armed police officer guards the ambulance entrance to the Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Maine, early on October 26, 2023.

Newly appointed Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) is facing scrutiny for his record on gun violence in the wake of a horrific mass shooting on Wednesday night that killed at least 18 people and injured dozens more.

The man suspected of carrying out the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, has been described by people who know him as a “gun fanatic.”

During his time in Congress, Johnson has been staunchly pro-gun and an adamant supporter of the gun industry, even as polling suggests that most Americans support stricter regulations on possessing and purchasing guns.

As recently as last week, Johnson posed for a photo-op with a pro-gun women’s group to showcase his bona fides on the issue, likely anticipating a potential run for the speakership.

In the past, Johnson has suggested that the rise in mass shootings and gun deaths in the U.S. is simply a matter of the American people lacking faith. In 2022, one news report noted that Johnson blamed secularization for mass shootings and joined with other Republicans who claimed that such violence was a result of the erosion of so-called “family values.”

Johnson has also issued statements deriding lawmakers who engage in efforts to enact reform. In a Newsmax interview last year, he condemned President Joe Biden for criticizing a Supreme Court order to overturn New York state gun laws, claiming that those in favor of gun reform “have a zeal, really, a quest, a goal to disarm the populace,” and “no regard for the Constitution at all.”

Johnson similarly denounced calls for gun reform after a mass shooting in 2021 in Boulder, Colorado.

“We have to be [jealously] guarding the Second Amendment when tragedies like this occur. … The solution to gun violence is not to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” he said at the time.

In that same interview, Johnson blamed people who are “mentally disturbed and mentally ill” for mass shootings, even though research indicates that the vast majority of mass shootings are not committed by people with mental illness.

Beyond his statements, Johnson has taken numerous actions in the House against gun reform. Most recently, he voted against a modest bipartisan gun law that was enacted following a spate of mass shootings in 2022; the bill increased funding for mental health and school safety measures, enhanced background checks for gun purchases under the age of 21, and created incentives for states to implement “red flag” laws, which allow local governments to temporarily remove weapons from individuals deemed by a judge to be a risk to themselves or to others.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) celebrated Johnson’s appointment to the speakership this week in a post on X, writing that he is a “Second Amendment stalwart.”

“Gun owners have a friend in Johnson,” Dave Workman, a Second Amendment advocate, wrote in a column about the new speaker on far right news site Ammoland.com.

Following the mass shooting in Maine on Wednesday night, Johnson offered “thoughts and prayers” rather than policy solutions, echoing statements by anti-gun reform Republican lawmakers after past shootings.

“This is a dark time in America. … Prayer is appropriate in a time like this, that the evil can end and this senseless violence can stop,” Johnson told reporters on Thursday. He took no questions following his statement.

Critics denounced Johnson after the shooting, noting the speaker’s abysmal record on the issue of gun violence.

“The new Republican Speaker Mike Johnson has voted AGAINST every gun legislation bill introduced to Congress,” Democratic strategist Victor Shi said in a post on X. “He voted against background checks. He voted against commonsense gun reform legislation. I don’t want to hear a single thought or prayer from him. I want action. Now.”

“Mike Johnson has opposed every bipartisan effort on gun safety,” the gun reform advocacy group Giffords wrote on X. “Voted against background checks on gun sales. Voted against protections for domestic violence victims. Voted against the BIPARTISAN Safer Communities Act. He puts the gun lobby ahead of public safety every time.”

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