“The first time they close the cage behind you, I don’t care who you are, you still get this butterfly in your stomach and you think, ‘What in the world?’ ”
Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a Republican from Oklahoma, is telling me about one of his previous jobs: professional mixed-martial-arts fighter.
“The first fight lasted about 45 seconds,” he said. “It was a fight I realized that I needed to pull weight. I fought out of fear more than anything else. I wanted to get in and out really quick.”
He won that fight. In fact, he won all of his five professional fights. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t leave the sport unscathed. Mullin has had operations on his shoulders, elbows, hip, knee, ankle, hands, and nose. And yet, he bristles at the violent image held by the sport.
“Mixed martial arts and fighting has a bad-boy image,” he said, sitting in his Washington office. Mullin is 35, with close-cropped hair, and looks like he still could be in fighting shape. “And rightfully so to some degree. That’s the way they promote the sport. But it’s really about discipline, about self-defense and respect.”
Nowadays, Mullin spends much of his time defending something else that conjures up its own violent images. It's a topic right at the center of a national conversation, and one that Mullin finds many people are completely misunderstanding of: guns.
As the Senate inches closer on a deal that could expand background checks for gun owners, Mullin wants to do his part to keep that from happening.
“What we are doing every time we pass rules is punish the law-abiding citizens like myself,” he said. “You don’t walk across our place in the summer without a gun on our land because of snakes.”
Coming from rural Oklahoma—his district covers the eastern third of the state—Mullin says that guns are just a part of his constituents’ lives. And to try to limit their access in any way is an affront to law-abiding citizens.
“What we need to do is focus more on going after the bad guys,” he said. “The 2 percent of the population that is committing crimes with a gun. That’s who we should go after, not the 98 percent of us that are doing it right.”
Mullin says it’s all about perception, that it is easy for people who know nothing about guns to demonize and be afraid of them. He tells me a story to illustrate his point. On one of his first flights to D.C. after being elected, Mullin met a city dweller (“one who had probably never seen a cow alive in a pasture”) who told him that there’s no reason someone should be carrying around the same assault weapons used by our military.
“I told him that just because the guns look the same as the military, it doesn’t mean they are actually the same gun,” Mullin told me. He made the point that just because a gun has the same casing—or stock—doesn’t necessarily mean the gun is the same, the same way a Bentley may look like some models of Chrysler.
“My 9-year old son hunts with a 223, but it’s got a wood stock,” he said. “It’s a semiautomatic. It has the same firing rate as an AR-17 does. It’s the same fire rate, same shell. Except one looks intimidating and one doesn’t.”
In other words, don’t judge a gun by its stock.