Following the news coming out of Alexandria, VA, much has been discussed. For one thing, many people have discussed gun control. Many more have discussed the politics of the situation. But few people are discussing the number of mass shootings in the United States.
First of all, I wish a speedy recovery for everyone who was injured in Alexandria. While these are trying times, this is a reminder of how destructive violence can be. I can only imagine how scared the people on that baseball field were, especially since their colleagues and a some police officers were hit. And there were children in the vicinity.
Now, while I have been reading up on the recent shooting in Virginia, I would like to talk about the larger issue of mass shootings — before getting to the politics and policy discussion.
What Happened In Virginia?
On the morning of Wednesday, June 14, 2017, five people were shot on a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia (not counting the shooter). Among those shot was Rep. Scott Scalise, a Republican from Virginia.
At the time of the shooting, congressional Republicans and Democrats were practicing for an upcoming charity baseball game. The Democrats and Republicans were going to practice at different times. The Democrats cancelled their practice after they had heard about the incident.
When shots started ringing out on the baseball field where the Republicans were practicing, most ran to the dugouts or jumped over fences to escape the gunfire. Scalise was immediately hit and he tried to drag himself from second base, where he had been playing.
Lawmakers at the scene said one of the Capital Police agents returned fire and enganged in a minutes-long firefire with the shooter, despite sustaining an injury, until Alexandria Police came and took out the shooter.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said the scene “would have been a massacre” if Scalise’s security detail had not been present.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) was on deck when the shooting occurred. He said he used his belt as a tourniquet to help one of the shooting victims. He also told CNN that the shooter, who he identified as a white male, was behind the third base dugout before the attack occurred. Brooks added that a semiautomatic rifle was used in the attack.
According to Jeff Flake, he and Rep. Brad Wenstrup (a physician) attended to Scalise when they were able to. The two applied pressure on Scalise’s wound until the ambulance arrived.
Two firearms recovered at the scene were an SKS rifle 7.62 (a Chinese-made AK variant) and a 9 mm pistol.
Five people were hospitalized. All those shot on Wednesday included:
- Scalise, the majority whip, is the third-ranked Republican in the House. He was shot in the hip and suffered internal injuries. He was listed in critical condition on Wednesday and had to undergo more surgeries.
- A congressional staffer named Zach Barth, who was shot in the leg. He was quickly released from the hospital. Barth works for Rep. Williams (R-TX).
- Matt Mika, a lobbyist from Tyson Foods (who was also a congressional staffer once). Mika was listed in critical condition on Wednesday after undergoing surgery.
- Two members of the Capitol police force, Crystal Griner and David Bailey. Griner was shot in the ankle and Baily suffered “a minor injury during the incident.” The Capitol police present at the site of the shooting were part of Scalise’s security detail.
The shooter was identified as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, IL. He was killed in a shootout with police officers. Hodgkinson specifically targeted Republicans. Before the morning of June 14, 2017, he was known to espouse his political views, which included harsh criticism of Republicans, including Scalise.
More importantly, Hodgkinson had a history of violence.
In 2003, he was fired as an independent contractor for “unacceptable behavior.”
In 2006, Hodgkinson punched one of his daughter’s friends in the face. When that friend’s boyfriend confronted Hodgkinson, the middle-aged man assaulted the boy with the back of his riffle.
Hodgkinson was also cited for firing a hunting rifle three months ago. However, he was not charged since he was legally allowed to possess that firearm.
The Historical Significance
Steve Scalise became the ninth sitting lawmaker to be shot.
Before Wednesday, Gabby Giffords was the last sitting member of Congress to be shot. In January 2011 then-Rep. Giffords was shot at a “Congress On Your Corner” event at a grocery store inTuscon, Arizona, along with 18 others. In total, 6 people were killed and 13 others were injured.
Jared Lee Loughner was identified as the shooter in that 2011 incident. He pleaded guilty in 2012 and was sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Did You Know There Have Been Over 150 Mass Shootings in the U.S in 2017?
Before the events on Wednesday, there were 152 total mass shootings in the United States this year.
The shooting in Virginia was the 153rd (or 154th) mass shooting in 2017, if one uses the metrics from the Gun Violence Archive. The website counts a mass shooting as one that results in the deaths and/or injury of four or more people, not including the perpetrator. Other websites may have stricter guidelines.
Regardless of the metric, gun deaths and mass shootings are on the rise in 2017, and they are happening at a faster pace than they did this time last year. So far this year, there have been around 7,000 verified gun deaths and over 13,000 injuries, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.
In Orlando during the week of June 4-10, 2017, there was a mass shooting in Orlando. It unfolded as the gunman killed five employees at his former workplace. He then turned the gun on himself.
Also, the shooting in Alexandria was not the first in the city. In May, a hotel shooting resulted in one death and two people sustaining injuries. That one death was the city’s first homicide in 2017.
The mass shooting in Alexandria was not the first that happened that day. In San Francisco, a man shot six people, killing four, at a UPS station. He then turned the gun on himself.
Since Wednesday, at least 3 more mass shootings have occurred.
- One in Canton, Ohio on June 14, 2017. Four people were injured.
- One in La Madera, New Mexico on June 15, 2017. Five people were killed.
- One in Richmond, VA on June 15, 2017. One person was killed and 3 others were injured.
What About the Politics of the Situation?
Well, there are four fronts I must address:
- The gun control debate.
- Scalise’s politics.
- The politics of the shooter on the Alexandria baseball field.
- How little attention is being paid to how journalists are being threatened.
1. The Gun Control Debate
One of the first things people talked about was gun control. According to authorities, the shooter was legally able to carry either of those weapons retrieved at the scene of the crime due to gun laws in Illinois and Virginia, and people are asking if things should remain that way.
Now, I know every time this is brought up, gun proponents will say one of two things: They might tell people to stop bringing in politics after such a serious situation or they might suggest people are threatening to take away all guns.
To the first statement, I ask, “When would be the best time to talk about this?” To me this is not political. I just want to know what we should do to make sure these incidents aren’t as common and we can save as many lives as possible. That’s human concern.
To the second statement, which is a strawman, I say the same thing. Also, I don’t want to take people’s guns away but keep guns away from people who should not have them in the first place. In the end, we need common-sense gun laws and they will require strict regulations.
This inevitably brings us to the issue of the mentally ill. A lot of times when (Caucasian) mass shooters attack, people fall back on the mental illness angle. People just mention this in passing (in order to defend gun ownership).
But what are we going to do about mental health? For a country that is supposed to be the richest in the world, we are failing in terms of health care and that includes dealing with the mentally ill.
2. Scalise’s Politics
In 2003, Scalise may have once given a speech to a white supremacist group. When Scalise’s staff was confronted with this information, a staffer said that might have been possible. Scalise himself said that he gave a lot of speeches when he was first running for office and would talk to any audience who would listen to him.
However, when talking about David Duke, Scalise said that while the two might share some of the same (political) viewpoints, Duke was far less palatable.
It should be noted that Scalise was in favor of loosening gun regulations and he earned an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. In January, he voted to repeal a federal rule aimed at barring people with serious mental injuries from purchasing guns. He has also sought to loosen regulations on interstate gun purchases and gun regulations in the District of Columbia.
After the Newtown, CT shooting in 2012, Scalise said, “It’s unfortunate that some try to take advantage of disasters to go and try to chip those rights away.”
Additionally, some of his Republican colleagues have stood steadfast in their positions on gun ownership. For example, Mo Brooks said that American’s 2nd Amendment rights should always be assured, even if there are deadly consequences.
This does not mean Scalise (or anyone who shares his viewpoints) “deserved” what happened to him at all, but these bits of information have made the rounds of discussion.
3. Hodgkinson’s Politics
Many news outlets latched onto the news that James T. Hodgkinson was a “liberal” and an avid Bernie Sanders supporter. He may have even worked on Sanders’ campaign in some capacity. While these things may be true — and his animus towards Republicans was definitely a motive — I don’t care for how the press is going about covering it.
Sanders, for his part, acknowledged that Hodgkinson may have been a low-level campaign staffer and condemned the attack. While on the Senate floor, Bernie Sanders made these comments:
I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign.
I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.
But that’s not enough for some people. And they made a bigger deal out of this than Hodgkinson’s history of violence. See this headline from CNN:
Shouldn’t Hodgkinson’s violent history been more important?
Also, I see where this discussion is going and I don’t like it. Basically, some people are taking the opportunity to take potshots at Sanders again — and liberals in general — despite what just happened.
What’s More …
People are telling us to “tone down the rhetoric” and now people are taking a closer look at left-wing violence. Political violence is a threat, sure, but are we going to ignore how people largely ignored the militias to instead focus on militant Islamists in our midst, when the former has been a greater danger overall?
In short, people are playing politics with this, and it’s largely one-sided. At the same time, we can’t have a sensible discussion about gun control — or the underlying issues that might drive a person, regardless of their political persuasion, to attack lawmakers.
4. The Press
Also lost in this discussion is how Greg Gianforte got off Scott-free. On Monday, the newly elected congressman from Montana was ordered to do 40 hours of community services, attend 20 hours of an anger management class, and pay a $300 fine. This guy choke-slammed a member of the press unprovoked.
But I guess that’s the type of justice you get when you’re a billionaire Republican congressman. Yippee!
Around the same time, Aaron Cantu, a journalist, faces 75 years in prison after he got swept up in a mass arrest during a major Inauguration day sweep?
Where are the members of the press talking about this? Do they not stick up for their own? The mainstream press is nothing like the sports press.
What About The Baseball Game?
To end on a positive note …
The traditional congressional baseball game is a charity event played between the Democrats and Republicans. It has been played since 1909. This year, it was held at Nationals Park on Thursday. Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) announced the game would go on as scheduled.
Rep. Joe Barton managed the Republican team. He announced some of the proceeds would go to the Fallen Officers Fund, in addition to the other charities on the list.
Rep. Mike Doyle managed the Democratic team.
For years, the Democrats had dominated the game but the Republicans lead the all-time series 40-42-1.
The Republicans won last year, 8-7. This year, the Democrats won again, by a score of 11-2.
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“Incident (6-15-2017 NEW MEXICO LA MADERA 5-1).” Gun Violence Archive. Retrieved 17 June 2017. Web. <http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/incident/868363>.
Lind, Dara. “Rep. Mo Brooks saw his colleague get shot. It didn’t change his mind about gun control.” Vox. 14 June 2017. Web. <https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/6/14/15801012/shooting-republican-scalise-gun-control>.
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Pagliery, Jose. “Suspect in congressional shooting was Bernie Sanders supporter, strongly anti-Trump.” CNN. 14 June 2017. Updated 15 June 2017. Web. <http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/14/homepage2/james-hodgkinson-profile/index.html>.
Sarlin, Benjy. “Rep. Steve Scalise: I might have attended white supremacist event.” MSNBC. 29 Dec 2014. Updated 30 Dec 2014. Web. <http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/gop-leader-steve-scalise-may-have-addressed-supremacist-rally>.
Shields, Todd. “Shooting of Gun-Rights Congressman Fires Up Both Sides of Debate.” Bloomberg. 15 June 2017. Web. <https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-06-15/shooting-of-gun-rights-congressman-fires-up-both-sides-of-debate>.
Sweeney, Darren. “Police ask for tips after 4 shot in Canton.” Fox8.com. 15 June 2017. Web. Retrieved 17 June 2017. <http://fox8.com/2017/06/15/police-ask-for-tips-after-4-shot-in-canton/>.
Weill, Kelly. “Reporter Covering Inauguration Protests Now Faces 75 Years in Prison.” The Daily Beast. 9 June 2017. Web. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/reporter-covering-inauguration-protests-now-faces-75-years-in-prison>.
Wing, Nick. “After 152 Mass Shootings In 2017, It Took An Attack On Congress To Get Our Attention.” The Huffington Post. 14 June 2017. Web. Retrieved 17 June 2017. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/congress-mass-shooting_us_59414b06e4b003d5948c8364>.