Coverage of the attempted political assassination in Alexandria VA, which resulted in the wounding of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), as well as two police officers and two others, was covered wall-to-wall by news outlets. Early reports of the shooting were sketchy. Later, it was revealed that the gunman, James T. Hodgkinson, reportedly asked whether the politicians and others playing at a baseball diamond in the Washington DC suburb were Republicans or Democrats before starting his rampage. Reaction to the incident was equally political. Initial reports provided basic information.
News media quickly identified the shooter as a middle-aged white male who was carrying a long gun and shooting people at a baseball diamond in the suburb of Washington DC. Soon there was praise of the heroism of two US Capitol Police officers who risked their lives and were wounded in an exchange of gunfire with the perpetrator of the attack. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) later gathered the House of Representatives into extraordinary session just hours after the shooting and issued a call for unity that was seconded by his Democratic counterpart Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California. They both issued calls for a re-emergence of bipartisanship.
However, in the media and elsewhere, gun politics was quickly brought to the fore. In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times opined in the hours after the gunfire, “The battle over gun control will likely become energized after today’s shooting, the specifics no doubt tailored to the incident itself.” The article asked, “Did the gunman procure his weapon or weapons legally? If not, how did he get them? Was he mentally ill? Should he have been eligible for a permit? There’s a usual list of questions that arise in such shootings. That we have such a familiar de facto system for processing such violence should be a ringing signal that we have, as a nation, tolerated routine gun violence for far too long.”
Scott Whitlock of the Media Research Center’s NewsBusters.org site pointed out that “journalists on MSNBC and Twitter immediately politicized the attempted massacre, offering calls for gun control,” while saying the practice is “shameful.”
He added, “Although MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle admitted, ‘We don’t know what type of gun’ was used, she speculated, ‘How difficult is it to get a weapon like this?’ MSNBC security expert Clint Watts replied, ‘It’s not difficult at all — we have very loose gun laws around rifles, semiautomatic rifles, whatever it might be.’”
Celebrities put their two cents in. Actress Mia Farrow tweeted, for example, “Too many guns, too easy to get, too easy to kill.” Another actress, Julianne Moore referred her fans to Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety, which are two anti-gun groups that she feels can “address our nation’s culture of gun violence.” Moms Demand Action tweeted in the hours after the shooting: “Join our grassroots movement of Americans demanding reasonable solutions to address our nation’s culture of gun violence. @MomsDemand is a part of @Everytown.”
Moms Demand Action tweeted not long after reports of the assassination attempt were broadcast: "Americans should be able to attend baseball practice without the threat of being shot. We all deserve better."
Americans should be able to attend baseball practice without the threat of being shot.
There were other less-known gun control advocates who went to Twitter to comment on the incident. Commenter Ana Defillo, a filmmaker, tweeted: "Make no mistake, the government and the Right and anyone refusing gun control have blood on their hands today." Nora Knox tweeted: "So disturbed to hear about another shooting, but maybe now the GOP will prioritize gun control."
So disturbed to hear about another shooting, but maybe now the #GOP will prioritize #GunControl?
Malcolm Harris, a writer for Vox, wrote: “If the shooter has a serious health condition then is taking potshots at the GOP house leadership considered self defense?” Harris is a frequent critic of Republicans and conservatives.
If the shooter has a serious health condition then is taking potshots at the GOP house leadership considered self defense?
Republicans and conservatives had a different take on the day’s events. For example, Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), who was present during the shooting, said that if he and his staff had been carrying guns during the morning baseball practice, the shooter "wouldn't have gotten too far." He said, "If this had happened in Georgia, he wouldn't have gotten too far. I had a staff member who was in his car maybe 20 yards behind the shooter who was penned in his car, who back in Georgia carries a 9 mm in his car. I carry a weapon. He had a clear shot at him, but here we're not allowed to carry any weapons here... Most of us are here in D.C., so how are you supposed to have it here?"
Noting that the District of Columbia does not recognize gun permits from the states, Loudermilk suggested: "I think we need to look at some kind of reciprocity for members here, but also we need to look at security details. If Scalise hadn't been on our team, it would have been really bad." Scalise has a security detail because he is a member of the House Republican leadership. Loudermilk said, however: "We aren't any more special than anybody else, but we're targets. This is exactly why there's a lot of fear of doing town halls at this point."
Republicans have long promoted gun reciprocity. Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Richard Hudson recently introduced legislation calling for nationwide reciprocity that would require states to recognize concealed carry permits from other states. So far, 41 states have partial reciprocity laws. On the day of the shooting, Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) told a radio interviewer in Buffalo that he plans to carry a gun at future public events. "If you look at the vulnerability, I can assure you from this day forward, I have a carrier permit. I will be carrying when I'm out and about." Here follows a video taken by a person who was on the scene of the attack.
Once the smoke cleared and both officials and the media took a better look, the shooter's identity became clear. The shooter was identified as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville IL. He had left behind his wife and business approximately two months ago. His Facebook page showed that he had an acute interest in politics, betraying a loyalty to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats but who betrays socialist leanings. Hodgkinson volunteered on Sanders' presidential campaign in 2016 and showed deep animosity toward the Republican party and President Donald Trump. On Facebook, Hodgkinson identified with a number of leftist hate groups, including "Terminate the Republican Party." In a social media post, he referred to Trump as a "traitor."
On Thursday morning, Hodgkinson came to a baseball field in Alexandria where congressional Democrats and Republicans were having a practice baseball game in advance of a game that is still scheduled for Thursday. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) told reporters that he spoke briefly with a man he believes was Hodgkinson, just before the game. Duncan said that the man “asked me if the team practicing was a Democrat or Republican team.” Duncan added, “I told him they were Republicans. He said, ‘Okay, thanks,’ and turned around. I’m shaken up. My colleagues were targeted today.”
Hodgkinson pulled off approximately 40 rounds, according to witnesses, with a weapon that resembled an M4 assault rifle. According to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Hodgkinson was carrying plenty of ammunition. He critically injured Rep. Steve Scalise, a conservative from Louisiana who serves as the Republican Whip, and two Congressional aides. Hodgkinson also managed to seriously wound two Capitol Hill police officers before being felled by bullets himself. According to police, he succumbed to his wounds in a local hospital.
Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.