Just after 7 on Wednesday morning in the all-American Washington, D.C., suburb of Alexandria, Va., GOP congressional members were on a ball field practicing. The annual Democrats-vs.-Republicans baseball game was a day away, and the participants were just wrapping up a successful workout.
Nobody suspected a mass shooting.
Rep. Jeff Duncan, a Republican from South Carolina, said he thinks that as he was leaving the field, he encountered the shooter, who asked if the players were Democrats or Republicans. It was an ordinary exchange that Duncan said was not in any way “earth-shattering,” and he made his way with colleagues up to Capitol Hill.
By the time Duncan recognized that there had been a shooting, and that it was a late-middle-aged “normal looking” white man who had perpetrated the attack on sitting U.S. legislators, he also recognized that it was the same man who’d spoken to him.
James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Bellville, Ill., was identified as the man who used a rifle to unload dozens of rounds, leaving the legislators and their aides and onlookers to seek refuge in the dugout or to cover in place in the dirt and grass.
Eyewitness interviews described the shooter as being “normal looking,” “average,” “a little on the chubby side,” “probably Anglo” and “regular.”
At the press conference, Alexandria police officials and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe stressed that it was “not likely” that Hodgkinson held any ties to terrorist organizations. According to the New York Times, he did hold some resentment over Donald Trump’s election. This, again, was a likely case of a lone-wolf, again, white man with a gun.
While the gunman has since died from his injuries, he lived long enough to be taken to George Washington University Hospital, where the care he received is among the best in the region. His victims are all expected to recover.
The highest-profile of the shooting victims is House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the Republican who represents the 1st Congressional District of Louisiana in the suburbs of New Orleans. Scalise was hit in the hip, and the surgery to repair his gunshot wound is reported by authorities to have been successful.
Amid the platitudes about thoughts and prayers and unity that are all too common after such events, what we’re not yet hearing is some common sense and some clear definitions to call a thing what it is.
First of all, this was indeed a terrorist act. Hunting down legislators, even those with whom one disagrees, is a crime that holds at its center the intent to make an example of the shot politician. The logic is simple: Vote my way or this could happen to you.
The man who perpetuated this terrorism was a terrorist.
Black shooters and brown shooters do not get such benefit of the doubt. If any black or brown person shoots and kills, one never hears the phrase, “This is an EDP,” an “emotionally disturbed person.” Instead, cue the tired rhetoric, “This thug needs to be put down,” or “Those people practice a violent religion.”
The talk of mental illness is immediate when a white man takes up his arms and turns them against innocents. Despite that, the overwhelming majority of people who have mental illness never become violent, terroristic killers.
But even if we are to grant that this particular shooter in the Alexandria incident did suffer from mental illness, there is still a main question to be answered. And it should be laid at the feet of Scalise and his similar-voting colleagues on Capitol Hill. We have to ask legislators, “Can we talk about protecting Americans from the proven threat that is domestic terror?”
Scalise holds an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association. He also was on Donald Trump’s Second Amendment Coalition, which wants to make it easier for residents of the District of Columbia to obtain guns. He has also fought to do away with provisions restricting mentally ill people from buying guns. Scalise co-sponsored the Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act, which aimed to remove restrictions on interstate firearms transactions.
While the Second Amendment is treated as a sacred edict from the heavens, never to be touched, these are legislators who are happy to change laws about voting rights, equal access to women’s health care and mental-health care as well.
These legislators, and much of the media, too, are far too comfortable with the status quo that white men with guns are the prime illustration of what it is to be an American—no matter on whom they turn those weapons.
It was almost a year ago when GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tweeted:
Paul was uninjured Wednesday as he and other legislators fled the hail of gunfire while another lone-wolf white man with a gun unleashed his fury at unarmed people who couldn’t defend themselves.
It’s time to do more than wring our hands and talk about how futile it is to even make a request for a real conversation about this issue.
Congress must absolutely get in line with medical professionals, who explain that gun violence is a public health issue, just like clean water and safe food.
And we must all do a better job in calling a terrorist a terrorist. Even if he’s a “normal looking” white man.
No one, not even GOP legislators, should be scared of being shot down in the outfield.