Will shooting of a congressman be a turning point for unity?

House Democrats pray for their Republican colleagues after hearing that a gunman fired on them at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., on Wednesday.
House Democrats pray for their Republican colleagues after hearing that a gunman fired on them at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., on Wednesday. The Associated Press

Bipartisan unity made a rare appearance in our nation’s capital on Wednesday. It only took a member of Congress getting shot at a practice for the annual charity baseball game.

Is it too naive to hope this will be a turning point – that this shooting will shock us out of complacency and acceptance? Or will we soon go back to the ugly, divisive business as usual, as Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and the other injured heal?

Republican Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and top Democrat Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco urged the House to pull together. “These were our brothers and sisters in the line of fire,” Ryan said, adding: “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”

“We are not one caucus or the other in this House today,” said Pelosi.

President Donald Trump called on Americans to “work together for the common good.” “We may have our differences, but we do well, in times like these, to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” he said, in a very measured tone.

What happened on a ball field in Alexandria, Va., shouldn’t be the new normal in America. Of course, it will spark more talk of gun control, as is already happening, especially after three UPS employees were killed on Wednesday in another workplace shooting, in San Francisco. This shouldn’t be yet another reason to bash and defend Trump, though his presidency has inflamed passions on both sides.

Instead, this is a time for politicians, indeed everyone, to take a hard look at what we’re doing and saying. Poisonous words can set off zealots, who are in both parties, or none at all.

The dead gunman, James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., left a trail of angry letters to his local newspaper and social media posts against Trump and belonged to several anti-GOP groups, including one called “Terminate the Republican Party.”

He also reportedly volunteered for the presidential campaign of Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders, who took to the Senate floor to condemn “this despicable act.” “Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs counter to our most deeply held American values,” he said, rightly.

Before Scalise, the last member of Congress to be shot was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, in 2011. Six were killed but she survived, miraculously. In a statement, Giffords called Wednesday’s shooting “an attack on all who serve and on all who participate in our democracy.”

As horrible as it was, it could have been much, much worse. Two U.S. Capitol police officers returned fire, were shot and are being hailed as heroes. But they were on scene only because Scalise is in the leadership. Without the officers, the other unarmed lawmakers and staffers who scrambled for cover would have been defenseless until police arrived three minutes after the 911 call.

It raises the possibility that all members of Congress should be offered security when they are in public.

There will be plenty of security at the charity baseball game, which is to be played as scheduled Thursday. It has been a tradition since 1909, but when Democrats and Republicans take the field, it will mean much more.

Several are from California, including Rep. Doug LaMalfa of Richvale, who is on the Republican team but wasn’t at Wednesday’s practice. He said the shooting is an opportunity for unity.

“We’ve been so divided in this country, and things are so overheated out there,” he told the Redding Record Searchlight. “We might have differences in how we achieve policy, but nobody’s trying to harm Americans.”

That’s something we should all take to heart.