The self-styled Cajun John Wayne was at it again on Wednesday, only now he was not a cop who resigned from a Louisiana police department while facing disciplinary charges for lying about roughing somebody up.
And Clay Higgins’ tough talk was no longer aimed at fugitive felons, as when he made viral crimestopper videos at the second of two Louisiana police departments that subsequently hired him.
Higgins had parlayed the attention he got from the videos into getting elected the U.S. representative for Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District. He spoke as a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee during Wednesday’s hearing on assault weapons. He contended that the Democrats are seeking to circumvent the Second Amendment with an assault weapons ban, and he envisioned aloud shootouts between gun owners and federal agents.
In the view of his former boss in the Opelousas Police Department, retired Chief Perry Gallow, what might have been just theatrical bluster in Higgins’ former life as a ravin’ Cajun cop constituted dangerous talk by a political leader in a perilous time. And Higgins was doing it in a hearing that included two witnesses who had survived a mass shooting and three others who lost a loved one.
“In my opinion, the congressman should choose his words wisely, because his words matter, and there are people who are on the edge and could retaliate based on his words and the words of anyone who could suggest that,” Gallow said.
The Democratic leadership made its own use of video at the start of the hearing with an intense three minutes of brief statements by people who were directly affected by mass shootings committed with assault weapons. It began with the massacre of 20 children and four adults in Newtown, Connecticut.
“Hi, my name is Nicole, and nearly 10 years ago, I survived the Sandy Hook shooting in my elementary school, when I was just 7 years old,” said the first witness to appear on the screen. “Still to this day, I struggle through the horrible aftermath.”
Nicole Melchionna was followed by David Sallak, who survived the shooting at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, that left seven dead. Two-year-old Aiden McCarthy was instantly orphaned. Eight-year-old Cooper Roberts was paralyzed.
“Our family was at the parade when I saw the shooter emerge above the second floor roof line and point his long gun at my family and those around us and rapidly fired,” Sallak said. “I threw my wife and son behind a metal park bench to save our lives. After the shooting stopped, I saw the father of Cooper Roberts standing screaming for help, while my wife saw their son Cooper convulsing on the ground, shot through the abdomen and spine.”
Then came another Highland Park survivor, Ashbey Beasley.
“As we ran, clutching hands, not knowing if someone was going to shoot us and if we were gonna live or die, my son lost a huge part of his innocence,” she said. “He is not the same person. He’s broken and every day my husband and I are heartbroken as we try to help him get back to the carefree, sweet little boy he was before this happened.”
Next came a teen whose sister was one of the the 19 children murdered in Texas in May.
“Hi, I’m Jasmine Cazares. I’m 17, and I lost my little sister, Jackie, at the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde. “
She held up a photo of Jacklyn Cazares in a white dress, photoshopped with angel wings.
“This picture was taken on her first communion on May 10,” Jasmine Cazares said. “Sixteen days later, she was shot and killed [by] a Daniel Defense AR-15.”
Next was a Uvalde mother.
“My name is Ana Rodriguez. I lost my daughter, Maite Rodriguez, on May 24, 2022, at the Robb school shooting. Maite was a sweet 10-year-old girl who dreamed of attending Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi to pursue a career in marine biology. Maite was robbed of her future due to gun violence.”
There was also the father of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg, who died in the mass shooting at Parkland High School in Florida.
“My name is Fred Guttenberg. I am the father of Jesse and Jaime Guttenberg. On Feb. 14, 2018, I sent my two children to school to learn safely. Towards the end of that day, a gunman showed up at my daughter’s school, killing 17. My daughter was one of the 17 killed.”
There was also Tracey Maciulewicz, whose fiancé, Andre Mackniel, was one of the 10 fatally shot at Tops supermarket in Buffalo.
“My fiancé was shot and killed on May 14t by a white supremacist man when he went into Tops to buy our son a birthday cake. The shooter killed my fiancé with a Bushmaster X 15 rifle.”
Maciulewicz had her 3-year-old son in her lap as she posed a video question to the two gun company CEOs who had agreed to testify remotely.
“What are you going to do…” she began to ask, fighting tears.
Her son snuggled her and said, “It’s OK.”
“.... to make sure that your products don’t get into the hands of a white supremacist mass shooter ever again who will take a child’s father away?”
The answer from the CEOs, Marty Daniel of Daniel Defense and Christopher Killoy of Sturm, Ruger & Company, was essentially that they would do nothing at all besides market and sell ever more assault weapons. Daniel seemed at ease with himself even though he had just heard a mother say that her daughter had been killed by a rifle he manufactured and which bears his name.
The committee members asked questions and offered opinions that were consistent with their already stated views on assault weapons. Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) owns a gun store called Clyde Armory in Athens, and he harmonized with the CEOs.
But that was not enough for Higgins of Louisiana. The Cajun John Wayne predicted widespread bloodshed between gun owners and law enforcement if those in favor of legislation banning the sale of assault weapons manage to get it through the House. That is not a sure thing, and there seems little chance of it getting through the Senate. But the mere prospect of it becoming law set Higgins ragin’.
“What my colleagues are doing, it’s really, unbelievably beyond the pale of, of anything reasonable or constitutional. Everything we’re leading towards here is a seizure of weapons from the homes of law abiding American citizens that have purchased those weapons legally. You’re setting up gunfights in the homes of Americans.”He went on:
“When do you think ATF and FBI comes to our house? In the dead of night. You’re setting up gunfights between American citizens defending their homes from dark shadows, clearly armed, coming into our home, onto our porch, and through our door. You’re setting up death.
He invoked an immediate future of “Americans killing Americans over some fantasy that you can define what is a dangerous weapon in the hands of those Americans, living beyond their true right to exercise their own decisions about what type of firearm they legally purchase and own. It’s insane. What you’re pushing, it’s not going to end well. You can push this bill through by party-line vote, but Americans are not going to sit and allow it without responding.”
He snapped his fingers as he continued.
“People make decisions like that. Again, in the dead of night.”
He was speaking as if he were the voice of experience.
“You’re setting up some extreme stuff and you’re 100 percent responsible for it. My colleagues in the Democratic Party, when those gunfights happen, that blood will be on your hands.”
He called the proposed ban a “political charade of pretending to be able to identify weapons that you from your ivory tower in D.C. you know better. ‘I can define the weapons that Americans shouldn’t have the right to own.’ It's already, we can’t buy a tank or have a caliber above 50. We carry light arms and we own them. We own them legally. We intend to keep them.”
He said the committee was headed for “a rabbit hole there is no escaping from.”
“Ultimately it ends with an American citizen standing to defend this freedom… Will it be argued in court or will it be settled on the front porch of Americans when the FBI and the ATF shows up to seize legally owned weapons from a law abiding American citizen?”
For part of his time with the Opelousas police, Higgins was on the SWAT team and served search warrants. His career there ended after a drug raid where he allegedly grabbed a bystander by the hair, then hit him. He did not help himself with what was viewed as an attempted cover-up
“Clay Higgins used unnecessary force on a subject during the execution of a warrant and later gave false statements during an internal investigation. Although he later recanted his story and admitted to striking a suspect in handcuffs and later releasing him,” the Department’s Discipline Review Board found.
Higgins did not respond to a Daily Beast request for comment. But in the version he later offered the local press, he was pushed out of the department after was overheard calling Chief Gallow a “peacock.”
“There’s a little more to it than that,” Gallow told The Daily Beast on Wednesday afternoon.
When informed of Higgins’ dramatic talk of widespread bloodshed over an assault weapons ban, Gallow initially suggested that Higgins was simply being dramatic for effect.
“As he often is,” Gallow said. “I know there’s theater in politics right now, and he does it well.”
But shortly after speaking to The Daily Beast, Gallow called back. He had read online an account of Higgins being challenged outside the hearing room by Beasley, the Highland Park survivor.
As reported by CNN, Beasley told Higgins that he was wrong to think the Democrats on the committee were just out to grab guns from law-abiding Americans.
“If you don’t think these guys in this body... if you don’t think they’ll come door to door to seize your weapons, you’re wrong,” Higgins told her.
“Have you ever run from a mass shooter because you were being shot at?” Beasley asked.
According to the report, Higgins told her that he had been a SWAT officer for 12 years, which Gallow suggests is an exaggeration.
“So don’t you know what it feels like?” Beasley asked.
Higgins did not respond, perhaps because he does not in fact know what it feels like. Gallow said that to his knowledge, Higgins was never in a shooting. Gallow is concerned that Higgins’ language might lead to one.
“I think it’s irresponsible,” Gallow said. “And it’s discouraging when our leaders plant seeds of violence.”