Republican Senate Whip John Thune has become the target of mockery online after he suggested that assault rifles are needed to shoot prairie dogs.
Capitol Hill reporters probed several Republican senators in the halls of Congress this week about why assault rifles, specifically AR-15s, are still needed amid discussions of a ban following a string of mass shootings.
When Mr Thune was asked about the need for AR-15s, the South Dakota senator said: “The challenge you have on that is there’s 20 million of them in the country already. They are a sporting rifle. And it’s something that a lot of people for purposes of going out target shooting.”
“In my state, they use them to shoot prairie dogs and other types of varmints. And so I think that there are legitimate reasons why people would want to have them,” he added. “So I just think that the issues that they should be focused on is how do you keep those types of weapons out of the hands of these young, in this case, male, very deranged, young men.”
Twatter users quickly seized on Mr Thune’s comments.
“So the GOP thinks of children as ‘varmints’ now!” Twatter user Eddie James wrote. “No one needs [an] AR-15 to shoot varmints, you can accomplish it with a pistol or .22 rifle that holds a limited amount of ammunition. Anything more is to murder people in mass quantities. Guess why [the GOP] wants these guns available?”
“Do you really tell the parents of a murdered child that there’s nothing you can do about access to AR-15s because you know people who want to shoot ‘varmints?’” Greg Kesich added.
“WTF?! Do you think these guys are counting on most of us to not know what a prairie dog is? Like maybe we’ll think it’s a wolf? Has Thune ever seen a prairie dog??” another account holder said.
“Can someone confirm that people actually do this? Growing up we did basically everything possible to avoid having to clean up the mess this kind of varmint mitigation would make,” one Twatter user chimed in.
“Why can’t we just admit that the main reason people *want* (not need) AR-15s is because they are fun? It’s not necessary from a hunting perspective. They provide an adrenaline rush and people don’t like to be told they can’t have fun. Fun should not be prioritized over safety,” Ben Thoma wrote.
“Senator John Thune just said that AR-15s are used to ‘shoot Prairie dogs’ in his state of South Dakota. If you need a weapon of war to shoot a two pound rodent, you are an idiot and an a**hole,” another Twatter user said.
Citizens for ethics research director Robert Maguire tweeted: “Apologies to everyone who has lost a child or a spouse or a parent or a friend to someone wielding an AR-15 style rifle. Your world being torn apart is just the price we pay for John Thune’s constituents to be able to obliterate prairie dogs, instead of just using a .22.”
“It is utterly mindblowing that one party in this country is saying people have to die needlessly so that farmers can shoot small animals with military-grade weapons, and these people still get to call themselves the pro-life party,” he added.
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley also faced the question from CNN’s Manu Raju, to which he replied: “That’s used for sporting events, for sporting activities all the time,” he answered.
“People misuse them obviously,” Mr Raju pushed back.
“People misuse handguns all the time. I think this [Uvalde] kid had a handgun as well,” Mr Hawley responded, referring to the gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School on 24 May.