Rep.-Elect Chris Stewart on Regulating High-Capacity Gun Magazines

by Reihan Salam

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Chris Stewart, who will represent Utah’s 2nd congressional district in the 113th Congress, is open to more stringent regulation of high-capacity gun magazines as part of a larger legislative effort:

Stewart said he would oppose any legislative attempt to restrict ownership of handguns and other common weapons but could bend on banning high-capacity gun magazines for the sake of having a broader discussion on violence.

“I would consider looking at some of the larger magazines and other things if it gave us an opportunity to talk about the other things as well,” he said. “Let’s talk about the big picture.”

To be clear, Stewart doesn’t think banning large gun clips would reduce gun violence or stop the mass shootings that have taken place in movie theaters, college campuses and, most recently, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“I’m not sure I would oppose that, but I don’t think it helps and if it helps it is really on the margin,” he said. “These shootings would not have been stopped if they [the shooters] had a 30-round clip or a 10-round clip; either way they were going forward.”

But Stewart sees such a legislative proposal as a catalyst for a more detailed discussion of other issues, particularly mental health care, where he believes the nation has failed.

National Journal’s brief profile of Stewart paints a picture of a staunch conservative with an unusual mix of experiences:

He says that his private-sector experience has had a “huge” impact on his political views. He favors a balanced-budget amendment, a 25 percent top marginal income-tax rate, and a dramatically reduced federal budget. “Stimulus spending, bailouts for Wall Street, local education, Amtrak, farm subsidies, medical research, alternative-energy development, transportation programs … the list of federal spending programs that can be cut goes on and on,” he says on his campaign website.

While he was running a business, Stewart’s writing career also flourished. He has written two New York Times best sellers, 2009’s Seven Miracles That Saved America and 2011’s The Miracle of Freedom. But Stewart says he found more meaning in writing a six-part fiction series, The Great and Terrible, a religious epic about the struggle between good and evil. Earlier in 2012, Stewart, who calls [Glenn] Beck a friend, began collaborating with the far-right commentator to adapt The Great and Terrible into a 10-volume e-book series aimed at a general audience.

Note that National Journal styles Glenn Beck a “far-right commentator,” which seems like a stretch if the term “far-right” is to have any meaning. Regardless, Stewart’s stance is interesting for a number of reasons: it acknowledges that one aspects of legislating, for better or for worse, is the perception that Congress’s job is to “do something” visible and immediate in reaction to discrete events, yet it also reflects the belief that there are no silver bullets for addressing complex, multi-causal phenomena and that successful legislation will have to honor priorities across the ideological spectrum, within reason.

Perhaps I’m giving Stewart too much credit, but he seems impressive — and he represents a safe district. Stewart is exactly the kind of legislator who could make an impact if he devoted himself to mastering a portfolio and becoming a thought leader on, say, Second Amendment issues. Right now, the incentives for an individual member of Congress to specialize and to champion a domain-specific reform agenda are weak, and the quality of legislation suffers as a result. Members have committee assignments, but we need more Jack Kemps with ambitions that go beyond fundraising-friendly tinkering.

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.