The early-morning peace of a public ball field in Alexandria, Va., was shattered Wednesday when a man wielding a rifle opened fire on House Republicans gathered to practice for the Congressional Baseball Game, one of the few purely recreational events that bring lawmakers from both sides together in a spirit of comity.
Among the wounded were House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., a congressional aide and two courageous Capitol Police officers who returned fire. The gunman, identified as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., a home inspector with a history of arrests and violent behavior, was shot by officers and later died. Authorities said it was too early to determine a motive, but Hodgkinson was known to have supported anti-Republican causes. He also volunteered for the Democratic presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who issued a statement calling Hodgkinson's actions "despicable."
There are mass shootings every day in this country — 154 this year — and each one is its own tragedy, to be grieved and regretted. But there is something especially chilling and loathsome about a shooter ambushing elected officials who are just playing a little summer ball, as many Americans do, hoping to have some fun and raise money for local charities.
For those unfamiliar with the event, the Congressional Baseball Game is a hallowed, bipartisan tradition dating to 1909. With occasional interruptions over the years, it has brought House and Senate, Democrat and Republican alike together on the ball field. It was gratifying to see the concern expressed by Democratic players, who were on a nearby field and immediately huddled in prayer upon hearing the news. And this nation is fortunate to have courageous law enforcement officers who put themselves in harm's way to prevent a shooting from turning into a massacre.
Cellphone audio captured the incident, with the crack of gunfire issuing repeatedly over long minutes. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-S.C., said he heard a scream and saw Scalise collapse. Several teammates, including Brooks, risked further injury to aid their wounded colleague.
Two Minnesota congressmen participate in this annual event: Rep. Tim Walz plays for the Democrats and Rep. Erik Paulsen for the Republicans. Paulsen rooms with Scalise and said he would have been on the field but for an earlier commitment to take constituents on a tour. The Editorial Board is grateful that both are safe.
The men and women who serve their country through elective office give much of themselves and know they can become targets at any time. Rep. Gabriel Giffords was shot in the head — and remarkably survived — during an open event she held in 2011 to meet with constituents. Scalise is through surgery, but at the time this was written, remained in critical condition. We add our wishes to those of a nation that he is able to make a full recovery.
In a move to be admired, lawmakers on the two teams have already said their game, scheduled for Thursday, will go on. This nation cannot, should not, let episodes of violence — whatever the genesis — further shatter our way of life. We cannot let violence force us to retreat further from one another.
House Speaker Paul Ryan brought his colleagues to their feet when he proclaimed Wednesday from the House floor: "An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us ... . We're all being tested right now ... join me to resolve to come together to lift each other up, to show the country, to show the world that we are one House, the People's House, united in our humanity."
Throughout the day, Republican and Democratic colleagues could be seen holding hands and comforting one another in the aftermath of the shooting. That message, that united front and caring for one another as humans, is what ultimately defeats violence and hatred. We hope it continues.