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Why Some Members of Congress Are Wearing AR-15 Assault Rifle Pins

Some Republican members of Congress have been sporting controversial new pins on their lapels in the shape of miniature AR-15 rifles. They say the pins are symbols of their commitment to the Second Amendment and Americans’ right to bear arms. Enthusiastically distributed by Rep. Andrew Clyde from Georgia, newcomers Rep. George Santos of New York and Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida were spotted with the pins last week.

But Democratic lawmakers and gun control advocates have been quick to denounce the flashy adornments as tone-deaf and disrespectful to victims of gun violence in America. AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles have been used in most of the high profile mass shootings in recent years, including at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas; Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Conn.; and the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas.

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Kent Nishimura—Los Angeles Times/Getty ImagesReporters surround Rep. George Santos (R-NY) as he heads to the House Chamber for a vote on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023 in Washington, DC.

“Instead of addressing gun violence head-on and taking action to save lives, certain members of Congress have decided that flaunting AR-15 pins days after multiple mass shootings is a clever way to support Second Amendment rights,” Adzi Vokhiwa, federal affairs director of Giffords, a gun control advocacy group, says.

“In all actuality, this statement is an insult to the victims of Monterey Park, Half Moon Bay, Uvalde, Parkland, Buffalo, and countless other mass shootings across our country,” Vokiwa adds. Less than two months into 2023, the United States has already recorded at least 54 mass shootings, according to the research group, Gun Violence Archive.

Democratic Rep. Jimmy Gonzalez of California launched the debate around the pins on Feb. 1, tweeting photos of Santos and Luna donning them and asking where they were coming from. Gonzalez pointed out that Luna wore the pin less than 48 hours after her state, Florida, experienced a mass shooting that injured 11 people. “This isn’t the flex you think it is,” he tweeted.

Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call, Inc./Getty ImagesAnna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) during the House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

Clyde, owner of the gun shop Clyde Armory in Athens, Ga., soon took credit for doling out the pins and invited other representatives to reach out if they wanted one.

“I hear that this little pin that I’ve been giving out on the House floor has been triggering some of my Democratic colleagues,” Clyde said while flashing one of the rifle pins in a video he posted to Twitter on Feb. 2. “Well, I give it out to remind people of the Second Amendment of the Constitution and how important it is in preserving our liberties.”

Clyde Armory sells a wide array of semi-automatic rifles, including many AR-15 variants. The Congressman’s stake in the company is worth up to $25 million, according to his 2021 federal financial disclosure.

Jabin Botsford—The Washington Post/Getty ImagesAndrew Clyde (R-Ga.) during a meeting of the 118th Congress on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, in Washington, DC.

Representatives from both sides of the political spectrum jumped to defend their beliefs this week as the pin debate unfolded. “Weapons of war have no place on our streets, much less on our lapels,” Rep. Dina Titus (D-NY) tweeted Thursday. Alabama Republican Rep. Barry Moore, meanwhile tweeted: “Save a pin for me!”

It’s unclear whether the pins will make an appearance at Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.