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A Swing District Congressman Changes Stance On Guns


Since Adam Kinzinger came to Congress in 2011, the Illinois Republican has opposed legislation aimed at toughening the nation's gun laws until now. Following the deadly shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the congressman called for universal background checks and more. NPR's Don Gonyea met with Mr. Kinzinger in his solidly Republican district outside Chicago.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Congress is on summer break, and Adam Kinzinger is back in his district.

ADAM KINZINGER: Oh, good to see you. Where are you from?


KINZINGER: Oh, awesome.

GONYEA: One morning earlier this week, he toured a manufacturing facility in the small town of Oregon, Ill. In remarks near the loading dock, the congressman acknowledged that working in Washington is - well, I'll let him say it.

KINZINGER: You know, look. Congress is pretty tough right now. When you guys turn on the TV, if you watch the news and you see all the fighting and all the back and forth and all the bickering, you can have a tendency to get pretty down on yourself and...

GONYEA: Kinzinger was here to talk manufacturing, but his comments about Congress also describe the gun debate - a debate he'll now be in the center of, thanks to his suddenly changing views on the topic. Kinzinger sat down for an interview in the district, which includes Chicago suburbs and exurbs and lots of farmland.

KINZINGER: So - you know, I've been wrestling a lot with - you know, I'm a fierce Second Amendment defender and, you know, I believe that there's a reason for the Second Amendment...

GONYEA: But he also says it bothered him that after each new mass shooting, people would stake out their positions, and there'd be no give and take. So he stepped forward, as have a small handful of other Republicans in recent weeks, including Congressman Mike Turner in Dayton and Peter King of New York. Here's Kinzinger.

KINZINGER: And I actually believe that us, you know, ardent Second Amendment supporters have a unique responsibility to actually come forward with solutions when there's problems.

GONYEA: Kinzinger is proposing universal background checks for gun purchases. He wants to raise the minimum age to legally buy a gun to 21. He also wants to ban high-capacity magazines for ammunition.

KINZINGER: I think a good starting point is if your magazine weighs more than your gun, right? A hundred-round drum is not good. I mean...

GONYEA: Specifics can be worked out on where the actual limit should be, he says. Finally, he now backs the so-called red flag laws that allow authorities to take away someone's firearms if they're deemed to pose a risk.

Gun control activists in his district are happy. Kristy Chorostecki heard about Kinzinger's change of heart when a friend sent her the essay the congressman published on the website medium.com.

KRISTY CHOROSTECKI: And I read it in my car in the parking lot of the bank because I said, whoa. And I was in tears.

GONYEA: Chorostecki describes herself as a Christian, a Democrat, a stay-at-home mom and a local organizer for the group Moms Demand Action. She is quick to say she'd like to have seen an even stronger statement from the congressman. For example, he does not support a ban on assault rifles, but...

CHOROSTECKI: It is so encouraging to see this from Adam Kinzinger because of how hard he's doubled down in the past on gun issues and the Second Amendment. So it was a really bright spot.

GONYEA: Of course, Kinzinger has heard from disappointed constituents, as well. Mike Eikey is a supervisor at a local chemical plant. He's also a former competitive shooter. He's unhappy with Kinzinger's new positions, even though the congressman is supporting things that are broadly popular, even among Republicans.

MIKE EIKEY: I'm glad that we have our constitutional rights and amendments because without those, the majority would always rule, and the popularity of certain things doesn't always lead us in the right direction. And we've seen that throughout history.

GONYEA: Eikey, too, has called Kinzinger's office and noted that he has long supported and voted for the congressman.

EIKEY: So what I think might happen is a lot of people who had his back before simply won't show up to the polls at all.

GONYEA: Kinzinger won reelection with 59% of the vote last year. President Trump easily carried the district, as well. When a member of Congress breaks with his or her own party on such a core issue, there's always some speculation that they've decided not to run again. Here's Kinzinger's response.

KINZINGER: I always say that, you know, look. It's - if somebody can tell you before it's announcement time they're running again, then they're not doing their due diligence to think through. But I fully intend to run again.

GONYEA: The congressman says we can look for that announcement sometime in September.

Don Gonyea, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.