Phil Gingrey reverses course on two points

In an attempt to clear the air before a possible Senate run, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey on Monday said he no longer considers a ban on high-capacity magazines a useful method of curbing gun violence — and retracted his controversial defense of Todd Akin and statements about a woman’s inability to become pregnant as a result of rape.

The congressman called his initial statements on guns an emotional response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. As for his comments on rape and abortion, Gingrey referred to them as “stupid.”

“I made a very awkward attempt to explain the unexplainable,” he said, admitting the resulting political damage has been self-inflicted.

The Republican made his double-barreled course correction two months after angering both Second Amendment enthusiasts and women in a single town hall meeting. “Obviously, I wasn’t on my best game,” Gingrey said in an interview in his Marietta office.

The gaffes have weighed heavily in elite Republican evaluations of Gingrey as a possible successor to U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who will not seek another term next year. Gingrey said he remains undecided about making the race – but is “leaning” toward running.

While the possibility that he might break with the National Rifle Association was probably more damaging among Republican primary voters in Georgia, Gingrey’s remarks on rape and abortion brought him national attention from GOP strategists worried about the party’s lack of appeal to women.

Karl Rove, who recently announced the formation of a Super PAC to counter Republican candidates who offend key constituencies, will be a featured speaker at the Georgia GOP convention in May. The Athens meeting is likely to serve as a kick-off for next year’s U.S. Senate race.

In the Jan. 11 article that appeared in the Marietta Daily Journal, Gingrey – an obstetrician by profession — defended remarks Akin made during his unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in Missouri. Akin spoke of incidents of "legitimate rape," and said biological defenses generated by a woman under assault would prevent ovulation – and thus pregnancy.

In an exclusive Monday interview, Gingrey retreated. “Rape is rape. If it’s rape, it’s legitimate. I certainly regret very much weighing in on that issue, which was something that was already pretty much roundly condemned and criticized. I felt so badly about it, because my profession is treating women,” said Gingrey, the father of three grown daughters.

Gingrey said he has had conversations with James Breeden, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “We went over articles and more recent journals,” the congressman said.

“Whereas Todd said the panic would cause a body to shut down and prevent ovulation, more recent data suggests just the opposite is probably true,” the physician-congressman said. Adrenaline is more likely to spur ovulation, he said.

“So you learn,” Gingrey said.

In that same MDJ article, Gingrey also said that he would be “willing to listen to the possibility” of imposing limits on magazine clips that now hold as many as 100 rounds.

Gingrey said he was “thinking out loud” at the time, and was wrapped in thoughts about his own grandchildren and the 20 first-graders in Connecticut slain only weeks before, by a 20-year-old gunman armed with an AR-15 with 30-round magazines.

“I have come to the conclusion that [limiting clip capacity] clearly would be a mistake — that it would not solve the problem,” he said.

Gingrey said he had hoped for formal hearings to hash out the issues. In their absence, the congressman said he has relied on advice from constituents and local experts.

“One thing that was explained to me is that, with magazines – the more often you have to [change them], the more likely it is for an automatic discharge, an accident, to occur,” he said.

Gingrey acknowledged that the mentally disturbed man who shot U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others in Pheonix in 2011 was tackled and stopped after dropping a 33-round clip while reloading his pistol. But Gingrey said he feared that such delays were the exception rather than the rule, and that a “compassionate bystander” might be hurt when attempting to disarm a “more facile” gunman.

Gingrey endorsed the NRA insistence on tighter reporting by state and local governments on those judged mentally unstable, but said he would oppose mandatory background checks on private sales of firearms – the so-called “gun show” exception.

The congressman said he shouldn’t be required to conduct a background check on his own grandson, should he want to bestow a favorite shotgun on him.

But even more important, Gingrey said, were concerns over a federal database of gun owners.

“There is a great fear out there, probably legitimate, that they will create a national registry,” he said. “People — particularly in the Southeast, Georgia, my district, all across the state — they don’t want the federal government to have the ability, at times whenever the federal government wants to declare an emergency, to start going around and confiscating people’s guns.”