Scalise, rising conservative star and gun rights advocate

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Washington (AFP)

Steve Scalise, the top lawmaker shot in Wednesday's attack on a baseball practice near Washington, is a rock-ribbed conservative who opposes abortion, supports immigration crackdowns and gun rights expansion, and who cleared numerous hurdles to become the number three House Republican.

The 51-year-old lawmaker from Louisiana went into surgery at a Washington hospital after being struck in the hip by a gunman -- who later died of injuries sustained in a shootout with police.

Scalise is considered a rising star in President Donald Trump's Republican Party, a gregarious lawmaker who headed a conservative grouping in Congress before being elected by his peers as the House majority whip, the member of leadership who ensures party discipline.

He had to face down demands for his resignation in 2014 after admitting to addressing a gathering with ties to Ku Klux Klan former leader David Duke, a scandal which complicated the party's effort to distance itself from the specter of white nationalism.

Scalise apologized, saying "it was a mistake I regret."

But the issue for which Scalise has made no apology is gun control. He is a fierce supporter of the National Rifle Association, which gives him an A+ rating, and has voted repeatedly to expand gun rights in the United States.

Scalise "will continue fighting to protect every citizen's Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms," his website says.

Last month Scalise, who has described the constitutional right to bear arms as "incredibly sacred," introduced legislation that relaxes restrictions on interstate firearm sales, making it easier for law-abiding citizens to buy guns.

He has routinely opposed gun control legislation, even taking to the House floor in a controversial speech criticizing gun control advocates in April 2013, just four months after 20 elementary school children and six adults were shot dead in Newtown, Connecticut.

"We were all shocked and saddened by the murders at Sandy Hook. But I think what's also disappointing, is when you have these tragedies, unfortunately there are people -- Washington politicians -- that try to take advantage of those tragedies to then come behind and try to impose their agenda," he said at the time.

Scalise was born in New Orleans, and graduated from Louisiana State University. He worked as a software engineer and marketing executive before being elected to the Louisiana House seat in 1995.

He headed to Washington after winning election for a congressional seat in 2008.

He quickly made a name for himself on conservative issues, and in his third term he was elected chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, a group of more than 160 House Republicans.

The group has played a vital role in debate over spending and deficit reduction efforts, but came in for criticism for proposing directions that were opposed by party leadership.

In November 2012, after winning the RSC chairmanship, he said he wanted to pull leadership "as far to the right" as possible in order to enact conservative legislation.